NEW YORK (Jan. 15)
The agreement that Israel and the Palestinians reached this week for transferring most of Hebron to Palestinian control grew out of a mutually felt need to reopen an earlier agreement.
This week’s accord has its roots in the Interim Agreement that Israel and the Palestinians signed in Washington in September 1995.
That agreement, the second of two agreements known collectively as the Oslo accords, spelled out a timetable for the turnover of six West Bank towns to Palestinian self-rule.
Only one of those towns — Hebron — had Jews and Palestinians living side by side and for this reason, the transfer of control there was delayed for several months beyond the timetable for the other towns.
But a series of Hamas terror attacks in Israel in February and March 1996 led to a postponement of the Hebron redeployment, which was initially scheduled for last March.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assumed office last June, his government, in part concerned with the safety of Jewish settlers, sought to reopen negotiations for the implementation of the Hebron pullback.
For their part, the Palestinians were concerned that the conservative Netanyahu government would not proceed with the three further redeployments in rural areas of the West Bank that the Interim Agreement called for after Hebron.
As a result, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat sought to broaden the Hebron negotiations to achieve assurances that Netanyahu would continue with those further redeployments.
The agreement reached this week consists of two parts: a protocol concerning the Hebron redeployment and an American-written “note for the record” that addressed non-Hebron issues, providing what is being called “a road map” for the future phases of the peace process.
In addition, the United States provided letters of assurances to each side, spelling out what each expected the other to do in the coming months.
The protocol on Hebron includes the following points:
The Redeployment: Israel agrees to redeploy from 80 percent of Hebron within 10 days of the agreement’s signing.
This represents the first time that a Likud government has agreed to give land to the Palestinians. The move signals that Netanyahu, after months of vacillation and inaction, appears to have concluded that there is no other choice for Israel than to continue the peace process of his predecessors.
At the same time, he can argue that he won important concessions in order to protect Hebron’s estimated 500 settlers.
Security: A buffer zone will be created around the Jewish Quarter and in the surrounding hills. Palestinians will not be permitted to carry weapons in these areas unless authorized by Israel. Palestinian police will create roadblocks to prevent any Arab assaults on the Jewish Quarter.
The security measures also call for the creation of joint patrols to operate in areas of particular sensitivity.
Palestinian Police: Reaffirming the original Interim Agreement, the protocol calls for the deployment of 400 police, who will be required to pass a security test to determine their suitability.
The police will be armed with 200 pistols and 100 rifles. The rifles are only for the protection of their four police stations in the Palestinian area, designated as H-1. Palestinian teams armed with rifles may enter the buffer zone only with the prior approval of Israeli security.
In the joint patrols, the rifles used by the Palestinians will have a shorter range than those used by their Israeli counterparts.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs: The two sides agreed to postpone discussions regarding this site, holy to Jews and Arabs alike. In the meantime, Israel will have sole control over security there.
Shuhada Street: The main street, which runs through the Jewish enclave, will be rebuilt with U.S. government money and reopened within three months. The reconstruction is aimed at providing a separation between Jewish and Arab traffic.
Civil Arrangements: The Palestinians will gain control over civil affairs except in the Jewish Quarter, which is designated as H-2, concurrent with the Hebron redeployment. Proposed construction will be coordinated between the two sides. Palestinians will control municipal services throughout the city. To prevent the settler community from being choked off by the authorities, Israel secured from the Palestinians a commitment to provide those services to all Hebron residents without discrimination.
The U.S. “note for the record,” which addresses issues beyond Hebron, includes reciprocal commitments from the two sides to adhere to the Interim Agreement.
Among the Israeli commitments:
Further Redeployments: Israel agrees to carry out the first of the three redeployments in rural areas of the West Bank in the first week of March 1997. The dates for the remaining two redeployments went unspecified in the “note for the record.” But in the letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Israel, a date for the third and final redeployment was spelled out — mid- 1998.
Netanyahu’s critics charge that he is giving away most of the West Bank prior to the conclusion of the final-status negotiations. Netanyahu can counter that based on the reciprocity of the agreement, further redeployments will be linked to Palestinian compliance with their commitments.
Prisoners: Israel agrees to release Palestinian prisoners during the permanent- status talks, which will resume within two months after the implementation of the Hebron protocol and address such thorny issues as Jerusalem, settlements and borders.
Netanyahu will find his greatest ammunition against his critics in the commitments spelled out for the Palestinian side in the “note for the record.” These Palestinian commitments include:
The Charter: The Palestinians agree to complete the creation of a new charter, bereft of all calls for the destruction of Israel. Netanyahu has maintained that the April 1996 resolution of the Palestine National Council to amend the charter was ambiguous and never closed the door on the issue.
Fighting Terror: The Palestinians agree to clamp down on terrorist organizations in their midst, to disarm militants and to prevent incitement and hostile propaganda against Israel.
If Arafat lives up to this provision, Netanyahu will have gone a long way toward achieving his promised “peace with security.” If Arafat does not, the premier will have an excuse to halt the further redeployments.
Palestinian Offices: Reaffirming the Interim Agreement, the Palestinians agree to operate offices solely in areas under their control. Under this provision, they will be expected to suspend official activities at Orient House in eastern Jerusalem, long a bone of contention between the two sides.