Israelis, Palestinians don't talk much about some parts of peace agreement

September 09, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders have had plenty to say to their respective followers as they try to whip up support for the agreement they reached in secret last month.

But there's a lot they'd rather not emphasize for the moment.

For example, it might surprise many Israelis to learn that seven months after they withdraw from Jericho and the Gaza Strip, their troops would pull out of populated areas on the rest of the West Bank.

It is not exactly a secret: The terms of the withdrawal were in a draft of the agreement widely published here. But Israeli officials have talked little about the wider withdrawal, focusing instead only on the first steps of "Gaza plus Jericho" -- two places that most Israelis care less about.

But Faisal al-Husseini, chief advocate of the plan for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the occupied territories, is stressing the point as he campaigns among Palestinians.

Stretching authority

"Any authority we can practice, we will practice on the West Bank as a whole," Mr. Husseini said this week at a Palestinian university. "Israel's withdrawal from all the areas will be accomplished" nine months after the pact is signed.

Withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho is to occur two months after the signing of an Israeli-PLO accord. The agreement reached in secret negotiations in Oslo could be signed next Monday if final details are worked out on that and on the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO.

Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, was expected to present both issues before his executive committee in meetings last night and today. His own faction, Fatah, the largest and most important in the PLO, already has approved the plan and is expected to overcome opposition by minority voices.

While attention has been focused on the efforts by Mr. Arafat and by the Israeli government to win approval from their constituencies, several other big issues of what happens after the agreement is signed have been glossed over by the parties, anxious not to arouse further opposition.

"Many details in the agreement are missing," mused an Israeli military affairs analyst, Ze'ev Schiff, in the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz. "The agreement has not been officially signed, and already both sides are giving different interpretations."

For example, Israeli authorities have repeatedly stressed that the agreement does not retreat on what it considers Israel's sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

Yet Palestinians say the agreement gives residents of Arab East Jerusalem the right to run for office and vote in elections for the Palestinian council, in effect extending the constituency of the Palestinian body to East Jerusalem.

"For the first time in our history, Jerusalem has been put on the agenda with Israel's acquiescence," complained Zalman Shoval, ambassador to the United States under the Likud government, and one of a few who have raised the point publicly.

Mr. Arafat has boasted in Arab capitals that the agreement is a bridge to a Palestinian state. "The Palestinian state is within our grasp," the PLO leader declared last week in Casablanca, Morocco. "Soon the Palestinian flag will fly on the walls, the minarets and the cathedrals of Jerusalem."

Israeli officials have tried not to hear such pronouncements.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister who is shepherding the agreement, repeated Monday that the issue of Jerusalem is "closed to discussion."

He also insisted the pact will not lead to a Palestinian state. But the agreement specifically sets a deadline of five years to determine the "permanent settlement" based on United Nations resolutions, a formula that most observers understand to mean some form of statehood.

Mr. Husseini and other PLO leaders have been loath to admit the large gap between their original demands and the limited autonomy granted in this agreement. Instead, they have been cheerleaders for the advantages of the narrower pact. Similarly, Israeli officials have sidestepped questions about the implications of the agreement, and instead focused the discussion on the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

"They are putting all this under the label 'Let's get rid of Gaza,' " complained Mr. Shoval. "It reminds me of the guy who jumps from the Empire State Building and in the middle says, 'So far, so good.' If one talks about such crucial things as the future of Israel, and peace, one has to look beyond the tip of one's nose."

Nagging details

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have addressed some sticky details -- and clashed over what the agreement says.

PLO officials in Tunis said Palestinians will have joint control with an international body over bridges that cross the Jordan River between from the West Bank to Jordan. Israeli officials flatly denied yesterday that Israel was giving up any control over its side of the bridge or international borders.

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