Arafat, Rabin agree on talks for elections

September 26, 1994|By New York Times News Service

EREZ CROSING, GAZA — EREZ CROSSING, Gaza -- Edging toward the next phase of Palestinian self-rule, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agreed yesterday to start talks next week on elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

After meeting with Mr. Arafat for nearly two hours at an Israeli base on the northern border of the Gaza Strip, Mr. Rabin announced at a joint news conference that the talks would start Oct. 3 in Cairo and that the two leaders would meet again within a month to gauge progress and address problems.

Both men described their meeting as cordial; Mr. Arafat presented Mr. Rabin with an ancient Torah scroll from Yemen.

According to the "declaration of principles" signed in Washington a year ago by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, elections for a Palestinian governing council were supposed to have been held by July, but delays in carrying out the accord have postponed the balloting.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of dragging its feet because the vote is to be accompanied by a pullout of Israeli troops from West Bank towns and their replacement by the Palestinian police. The Palestinians charge that Israel wants to keep its forces where they are.

Mr. Arafat's provisional government, the Palestinian Authority, has called for the vote to be held in early November, but that target looks increasingly unrealistic.

Israeli officials say they are committed to the elections. But they acknowledge that they are wary about troop withdrawals before they are assured that the Palestinians can curb anti-Israeli violence. They point to continuing attacks in the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

There was more violence there Saturday, when a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli teen-ager at the entrance to the settlement of Neve Dekalim, near Khan Yunis. Israeli soldiers guarding the settlement shot and killed the Palestinian.

The army said a leaflet of the militant Islamic movement Hamas was found near his body. But Mr. Arafat, who called the attack a "terrorist act" and promised to stop further violence, said Hamas had denied responsibility for the stabbing.

If anything, security in the West Bank is more complicated than in Gaza, where Israeli settlements are concentrated in two main clusters.

The entire West Bank, by contrast, is dotted with Israeli settlements, some in remote areas but others adjacent to Palestinian towns or even inside them. The Israeli army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, has said that it would be difficult to protect Jews in the West Bank after an Israeli pullback.

There is also disagreement over the size and powers of the Palestinian council. The Palestinians want a 100-member legislative body similar to a parliament, and a Cabinet-like executive; Israel has reportedly agreed only to a self-rule council of 20 to 30 members.

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