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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                     Sept. 28, 1995, V3, #177
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Historic Israeli-Palestinian Signing on White House Lawn Many Arabs and Jews Oppose Peace Process

By David Borgida, David Gollust and Al Pessin

Here in Washington today, the White House is the site for a historic Mideast signing ceremony, this one, marking the agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that extends self-rule to the more than 1 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

The security around the White House began to tighten noticeably early Wednesday, as law enforcement officials moved the usual crowd of protesters and homeless away from Lafayette Park just across from the north side of the White House. The broad avenue there, Pennsylvania Avenue, has been closed to traffic, creating a pedestrian mall.

The White House grounds are being attended to also as workers were observed removing what few weeds appear to the naked eye. So many will be here, from the key regional leaders -- PLO leader Yasir Arafat, Prime Minister Rabin, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein -- as well as Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales, representing the European Union. Syria and Saudi Arabia will also be represented.

Middle East political analysts are fond of depicting the agreement between Israel and the PLO not as reconciliation, but as a divorce decree between two quarreling parties sharing the same household.

Under Rabin, Israel has effectively given up the notion of a Greater Israel, encompassing the West Bank and Gaza. His main objective now is to hand over responsibility for governing the nearly 2 million Palestinians there in a way that protects Israel's political and security interests, and preserves the country as an essentially Jewish state.

Under the much-delayed second phase of autonomy, Israeli security forces will pull back from major population centers in the West Bank within 10-days of the signing -- giving the Palestinians initial control of 30-percent of the region's land area, and most of the rest by early next year.

Elections for a new Palestinian governing council, in which the Arab residents of Jerusalem will take part, will be held after the pullback is completed next March. Israel is committed to releasing most of the estimated 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails in three stages, starting immediately after the signing.

The PLO's obligations under the agreement are less extensive, but include the politically significant step of finally striking language calling for Israel's destruction from the Palestinian covenant, its founding document.

In an ironic twist, Arafat's Palestinian opponents may have a shared interest with Israeli right wing and Jewish settler militants who are hoping the second phase of autonomy will fail and be rolled back.

The negotiations which produced the agreement being signed at the White House were some of the most difficult in the long history of the regional peace process. The agreement which is a year behind schedule was only completed after more than a week of virtual non-stop negotiations in Taba, Egypt. The final week was punctuated by two angry PLO walkouts and urgent intervention by top US and Egyptian diplomats.

All for an agreement that does not address the most critical issues between Israel and the Palestinians. Those being the political future of Jerusalem, the status of the 140 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, resettlement rights for Palestinians living abroad and in refugee camps in the Arab world, and the question of Palestinian statehood.

While Arafat insists the process has made full statehood inevitable, Rabin sees this as, at best, a possibility. Such matters are to be left to the so-called final status negotiations due to begin no later than May of next year and which are shaping up as a turning point in Middle East politics.

Israel's Cabinet has approved the agreement to expand Palestinian autonomy, which was initialed Sunday, clearing the way for Yitzhak Rabin to sign the accord today in Washington. After a lengthy meeting, the 18-member Cabinet approved the accord with no members opposing it and two abstaining.

One of the abstaining ministers said he is concerned about the plan to place some Jewish holy places under Palestinian control. The other said he is worried about Israel's promise to release more than 2,000 of the 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The Cabinet approved that plan Wednesday in a separate vote.

The government is expected to have a more difficult time gaining approval in the Israeli parliament, where it holds only a slim majority and several members of the ruling coalition are expected to vote against the accord. The parliament is expected to begin discussing the agreement next week.

Meanwhile, Yasir Arafat faced new opposition to the accord. Arafat has received the endorsements of his cabinet in Gaza and of several members of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee in Tunis. But Wednesday, seven other members of the 18-member committee issued a statement denouncing the accord.


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