Delays Over Jericho

December 14, 1993

The failure of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to meet the Dec. 13 target date for the beginning of Israeli troop withdrawal from occupied areas is disappointing. But no one said their historic agreement was going to be easy.

The more important target date is April 13, when the Israeli withdrawal is scheduled to be completed.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat may be warriors and adversaries. But they are in this thing together. Neither can succeed without the other succeeding, or fail without the other failing.

They must understand each other's problems, which are also their own. Mr. Arafat must appreciate the anxiety of Israeli settlers and the pressures on Mr. Rabin to defend them. Similarly, the Palestinians who have been attacked by violent settlers, and who are desperate to get Israel off their backs, are Mr. Rabin's problem.

The issues that delayed implementation are which side will control Palestine border crossings with Egypt and Jordan, and how large the area of Jericho, the putative PLO capital, will be at the start. These are negotiable issues. The differences can be split. Joint patrols and checkpoints can be operated on borders. The area of Jericho to be vacated by Israeli forces can be midway between what Israel offered and the PLO demanded. It is only a stage toward a greater withdrawal.

Over the medium term, the greater danger to the agreement is not between Israel and the PLO, but internal to the PLO. Mr. Arafat is talking about providing 12,000 PLO police to get security started. Both he and Mr. Rabin had previously talked of larger numbers. The PLO needs to regain the confidence of oil sheikdoms that ended their subsidies when Mr. Arafat rashly supported Iraq's devouring of Kuwait.

More than that, some Palestinians fear that the Arafat entourage is going to come in from Tunis like conquerors and push everyone about. This explains the defection of the Palestinian negotiating team's best-known spokesperson, Hanan Ashrawi, to work in human rights -- apparently including the rights of Arafat critics in the PLO.

Israel is making rapid strides in relations with the Arab world. The gains to be had from the agreement with the PLO are greater than the differences which currently delay implementation.

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