Israel, PLO near accord

January 31, 1994|By Youssef M. Ibrahim | Youssef M. Ibrahim,New York Times News Service

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Israel and the PLO are on the verge of concluding an accord on a limited Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, ending a four-month deadlock, senior Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said here early today.

Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman; Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister; and Amr Moussa, Egypt's foreign minister, described their efforts in the most positive tone heard since the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel signed a peace agreement in Washington on Sept. 13.

The accord, which officials said they were almost certain would be completed and signed in Cairo, Egypt, within the next two weeks, was worked out in two days of intensive talks at this plush Alpine ski resort where the leaders were also participating in an international economic meeting.

"We are on our way to bypass all the obstacles which had been raised in the last weeks," said Mr. Arafat, who was seated next to Mr. Peres when the two addressed government and business leaders here.

The PLO chairman, who appeared relaxed and cheerful, added that a final agreement to begin implementing the accord would be signed "very soon." He said that Arabs and Israelis were beginning a new relationship "far away from violence, terrorism and wars, something we can be proud of and we can offer to our new future generations."

Mr. Moussa, who participated in the grueling talks over the week end, said that most substantive issues concerning the transfer of authority from the Israelis to the Palestinians have been settled in the hefty document that will be signed in Cairo.

"Ninety-five percent of all points of contention are settled," Mr. Moussa said in an interview here last night. He added: "I am satisfied that we are about to get out of the bottleneck and the way is cleared for an agreement. Cairo is the next station."

In his remarks to the World Economic Forum, Mr. Peres, who was not as effusive as the other two negotiators, said: "Many of us feel that if we can solve the Palestinian dispute, all disputes in the world are soluble."

Mr. Peres pointedly noted that Israel fought five wars with the Arabs, "which Israel won militarily but not politically." He said that "wars lead nowhere," particularly because it is now possible for enemies to attack with long-range ballistic missiles. "We are condemned to live in peace. We have to make this endeavor a success," he said.

If these pronouncements prove true, the signing of the self-rule accord will end weeks of wrangling and discord that have delayed its implementation, which had been set to start on Dec. 13 of last year.

But officials here say it is likely that the new measures for self-rule will be well under way by the April 13 deadline for full implementation.

Negotiations were hampered by three major disagreements. The most important was who would ultimately control access to the occupied territories from Egypt and Jordan.

The other major points of contention were the size of the Jericho area that is to be evacuated by Israeli troops and the nature of the security arrangements for Jewish settlers who will continue to live there.

Various Arab and Israeli officials here said that only one point remained unresolved -- how much of the Jericho area will be under PLO control. The PLO insists on access to the Dead Sea, which is outside the immediate area of Jericho.

But the PLO accepted Israel's demand for ultimate control over the border crossings from Jordan and Egypt. Under the agreement, Israeli security forces are to have veto power over the entry of Palestinians or others they deem dangerous to Israel's security. The rationale for the entry controls was that access to the occupied territories is equivalent to access to Israel proper, since those who enter Gaza or the West Bank could eventually travel, undetected, to Israel's cities and towns.

But the Palestinians obtained a firm commitment that Israel will stop the physical searches of Palestinians that have been routine at the borders since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

Yossi Sarid, a senior Israeli negotiator, said in an interview here that "99 percent of the Palestinians will not be searched."

In addition, officials said, they have obtained the right to be present during the searches of any Palestinians and to allow both Palestinian border police and lawyers to witness searches.

The obstacle over guaranteeing the safety of Jewish settlers living in Gaza and near Jericho has also been resolved with a plan for joint patrols and access roads that will be guarded by Israelis with Palestinian cooperation, Egyptian officials said.

Yesterday, in a gesture that was warmly applauded, Mr. Arafat pointedly took Mr. Peres' hand to mount the podium from where they addressed the international gathering.

Mr. Peres thanked Mr. Arafat for what he described as "his supreme effort" toward peace.

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