Israel and the PLO Make Progress

July 07, 1995

In predicting agreement by July 25 on the turnover of much of the West Bank from Israel to Palestine, Chairman Yasser Arafat and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are making it more likely. They are taking the risk, inviting opprobrium should they fail to make the latest self-imposed deadline on frustrating talks. They put pressures on themselves to succeed, which is good news.

The breakthrough 1993 agreement on a three-phase achievement of autonomy for Palestine in territories Israel has occupied since 1967 has been jeopardized by the slow pace of implementation. Actions or inactions on each side have alienated the two parties.

The first phase is implemented, the second a year behind. In their effort to hammer out implementation of that second phase, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres have had trouble agreeing in detail to what they had previously agreed in principle.

The leaked points of agreement on implementation include the timing of Israeli military withdrawal from six major towns of the West Bank, with a longer Israeli security presence in troubled Hebron, and Palestinian elections this calendar year. Israeli settlements will remain, protected by Israel's army, their future status to be negotiated later.

According to Israel television, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has called military withdrawal dependent on imminent PLO elimination of clauses in its charter calling for Israel's destruction. Failure of Mr. Arafat to accomplish that has compounded Israelis' distrust. It would be a welcome beacon telling the Arab world to make real peace.

The problem of the settlers, such technical matters as equitable distribution of water and the eventual status of Jerusalem make the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians incredibly complex and difficult to imagine.

By comparison, the stalled dialogue between Israel and Syria over peace and the Golan Heights is conceptually easy. Everyone on both sides sees perfectly clearly what must be agreed. The definition of Israel, the ideological basis of Zionism, the dispute within Israel over what is essential, are not at stake in the Golan. They are in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem.

Mr. Peres and Mr. Arafat are to be commended on the progress they have made and should be given every encouragement by people of good will the world over to finish the job.

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