Israel, PLO reach accord

May 04, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

CAIRO, Egypt -- Carrying their haggling down to the last minute, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat finally completed the agreement that will give Palestinians their first taste of self-government only hours before the accord was to be signed.

The scheduled signing at 11 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) today will clear the way for an immediate pullback of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

Their host and sometimes mediator, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, scheduled an elaborate signing ceremony to mark the first time Israelis have turned land over to the Palestinians since the 1967 war that gave Israel control of Gaza and the West Bank.

But the Israeli prime minister and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, ready to pit their endurance at the bargaining table where they once matched wits in war, argued for six hours over the final points of a 150-page agreement inside an ornate Egyptian presidential palace.

Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat flew to Egypt last night to settle the final details of how Israel is to relinquish control to Palestinians for daily life in Jericho and the Gaza Strip, while keeping enough authority to keep the Palestinians from forming a state.

They negotiated under the prodding watch of Mr. Mubarak and U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, who extended a trip to stay in the Middle East for the occasion.

With that signing, about 1 million Palestinians will see the first signs of self-rule. The first Palestinian policemen of a force of 9,000 are expected to drive from Egypt and Jordan in U.S.-donated police cars today or tomorrow.

Israel also will release the first of 8,500 Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians expelled by Israel will start to return. Financial aid will begin to pour into the occupied territories -- the World Bank pledged $1.2 billion Monday for them.

This will be the Palestinians' first government of their own. They were under Jordanian and Egyptian rule before the 1967 war, and before that were governed by other powers.

Israel returned captured Sinai territory to Egypt after the 1979 Camp David accords. But the occupation of the other areas continued because of Israeli security concerns, the two sides' inability to sit down together, Israel's determination to keep biblical areas west of the Jordan River and the blossoming population of Jewish settlers on those lands.

The "Gaza-Jericho" agreement will give a measure of autonomy toabout half the 2 million Palestinians under Israeli rule. They will be able to construct their own government and make their own laws, run their own schools and hospitals, and commission their own policemen.

Israeli authorities will not be far away, however. Mr. Rabin has insisted that Israel have full control over "security matters." Israeli troops still will patrol main roads in the Gaza Strip, will protect Jewish settlers who live among the Palestinians, and retain the prerogative to chase wanted Palestinians into the autonomous areas.

Still, "if there's an agreement by 11 a.m., by 2 p.m. Palestinians will see Israeli soldiers going away," said Uri Dromi, a spokesman for the Israeli government, before the final details were agreed to. "After that, 90 percent of the Palestinians will not see a soldier at all."

Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat argued over stationing of a Palestinian officer on the Jordan River border, over jurisdiction over water off the coast of the Gaza Strip, over the size of the autonomous areas of the Gaza Strip.

But the issues were resolved at a series of meetings among Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Christopher, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat, in various combinations, according to those present.

Yesterday's meeting was the culmination of a much-interrupted process that began in Washington with the historic handshake Sept. 13 between Mr. Rabin, 72, and Mr. Arafat, 64, veteran chiefs of two long and bitter foes, Israel and the PLO.

The agreement signed in Washington called for the hand-over of Jericho and the teeming Gaza Strip by April 13, a date bypassed in the ensuing quarrels.

Those arguments, which spilled across negotiating tables on at least three continents, centered on the details of control of the Palestinian autonomous areas.

Despite the pledge to let Palestinians control their own affairs, Israel bargained endlessly over every detail of the arrangement, according to a neutral and knowledgeable source. Despite their pledge to forgo claims of statehood temporarily, the Palestinians pressed hard for the trappings of sovereignty.

The long negotiations are not an encouraging sign for easy accomplishment of the next two phases of the Washington accord. Israel is supposed to pull its troops and civil authorities out of Arab populated areas in the rest of the West Bank. And the two sides are supposed to begin a five-year process of negotiating the "final arrangement" under which Is raelis and Palestinians will live side by side.

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