Progress on Palestine

February 01, 1994

Though Israel did not begin withdrawing from Gaza and Jericho on Dec. 13, as agreed on Sept. 13, the odds are still good that it will complete that withdrawal on the target date of April 13.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization did not, in their weekend meeting in Switzerland, end the deadlock that has paralyzed relations between the two parties since the Sept. 13 agreement. But they deliberately heightened expectations that they will do so next weekend in Cairo.

What appears to be in the works are compromises on control of border crossings between Jordan and Jericho, the size of Jericho, and Israeli security measures for settlements within the PLO lines. One description of the need is symbolism for the PLO and security for Israel.

But the riveting pictures of these two men of the desert tripping through Swiss snow and ice to the meeting hall in the alpine ski resort of Davos, and holding hands on the way to the podium to address a throng of cheering world business leaders, shows how the momentum of peace can work.

They have taken opprobrium in their own camps for their association, and now they depend on each other to make the peace agreement work.

This makes them almost the friends they thought they never could be. The hang-up of the past months is the price they paid for ambiguity in the Sept. 13 agreement. That ambiguity papered over differences that were going to have to be resolved, and now they jointly feel the pressure to resolve them.

Most riveting in the theatrics of their new co-dependence was the almost identical pitch each man made to world business leaders for investment in the truncated Palestine that is to be given autonomy. Both Israel and the PLO equally need it to prosper. In the words of Mr. Arafat, it can become a Somalia, or a Singapore.

Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres did not reach agreement on the details but they did acknowledge that they are in the same boat, and will either sink or reach the destination together. That tends to concentrate the mind.

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