Rabin seeks to delay Palestinian elections, West Bank pullout

September 23, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Israel wants to delay implementing the second -- and most sweeping -- stage of the peace agreement it signed one year ago, according to Israeli and Palestinian reports.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has told senior officials that he wants to postpone Palestinian elections and the required withdrawal of Israeli troops from Arab-populated areas in the West Bank, Israeli newspapers reported yesterday.

The next step toward Palestinian self-rule was supposed to have taken place in July and now is tentatively rescheduled for November. Mr. Rabin said that he wanted it delayed "as long as possible," according to the newspaper Ha'aretz, quoting a senior political source. The Jerusalem Post said he wanted elections postponed "indefinitely."

Israeli officials have blamed the Palestinians, saying that they are unprepared to hold elections or take over the West Bank. Israel has said that it must approve the preparations.

"If there is not agreement on all of the early stages prior to the holding of the elections, the elections will not be able to be held," Mr. Rabin told the Israeli daily Al Hamishmar.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has resisted a long delay, according to reports, but said yesterday that he doubts that the elections and Israeli pullout could occur in November.

"We support elections among the Palestinians," he told Israel Radio. "But we have to agree what they are going to elect, what will be the size of the authority in numbers, what will be the scope of the authority."

Palestinians chafe at that attitude.

"It's patronizing to us. They say they know better than us. They say the Palestinians are not ready to do it and can't do it," complained Samir Hulileh, a member of the Palestinian economic authority.

"It's an attempt to go back on the peace agreements," Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told an Arabic daily yesterday.

"One of Israel's main motives for delaying the Palestinian elections is to evade the agreement on withdrawing the Israeli army from towns and villages and population centers on the West Bank."

Israel Radio reported yesterday efforts to arrange a meeting next week between Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat to discuss that and other issues.

The "Oslo Agreement," signed in Washington on Sept. 13, 1993, set a strict timetable for each step of the agreement. But each step has been preceded by agonizing negotiations that dragged past the deadlines.

Some Israeli commentators believe that Mr. Rabin has had second thoughts about fulfilling the Oslo accord. They say that he fears internal political opposition to the troop pullout and reaction to the agreement that will allow Palestinians in disputed East Jerusalem to vote in the election for a Palestinian authority.

"Some army circles in Israel have an interest in delaying the election indefinitely so they do not have to withdraw," said Uri Avneri, a liberal former member of the Israeli parliament.

"The Rabin government is trying to drag out the negotiations until the next [Israeli] election" in 1996, said Ziad Abu Zayyad, one of the Palestinian negotiators. "Maybe they fear that making substantial concessions in the West Bank will endanger them in the elections."

Other commentators have concluded that Mr. Arafat is not pushing hard to have elections, despite his public call for them, for fear that he might lose.

Ahmed Tibi, a close adviser to Mr. Arafat, denied that allegation yester

day. "The Palestinians are demanding to hold elections as soon as possible," he said. "This is a demand of the leadership, and especially of the people."

In related developments, wire services reported:

* Mr. Arafat met for the first time with rival Muslim militant leaders to try to defuse tensions set off by a shootout Sunday between Palestinian police and Islamic gunmen.

After the three-hour pre-dawn meeting, Mr. Arafat ordered the release of three Muslim militants held in connection with the gunbattle. He did not speak to reporters.

Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, said the group gave Mr. Arafat a list of demands concerning Hamas members and their right to carry arms. He said Mr. Arafat promised to respond within two days.

Mr. Arafat has limited room for maneuver because of Israel's demand that he disarm Islamic militants and do everything possible to prevent attacks on Israelis.

Earlier this month, Mr. Arafat ordered dozens of Islamic Jihad members rounded up after the group claimed responsibility for killing an Israeli soldier. Most have been released.

* Thousands of right-wing Jewish settlers tried to storm into the Tomb of the Patriarchs during a prayer rally at the site in Hebron where a militant Israeli massacred some 30 Palestinians in February.

Israeli police pushed back the Jews before they could enter the shrine, closed since the killings.

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