Exclusive: Deals at the heart of Mid East peace plan revealed

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The Independent Online
AFTER a confidential meeting between United States officials and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo last week, the Americans have agreed to furnish the PLO's embryonic police force with military trucks and heavy Jeep Blazers in an effort to speed up the deployment of Palestinian security forces in Gaza and Jericho.

But details of the secret agreements reached between the PLO and the Israelis, disclosed to the Independent on Sunday, make it plain that the two sides have no hope of meeting Wednesday's Israeli withdrawal deadline - and that a mass of unresolved details could still put back the PLO's takeover of Gaza City and Jericho by weeks.

Israel and the PLO have now agreed that a PLO police force comprising at least 6,500 men - and up to a maximum of 9,000 - will be deployed in the two cities armed with 9,000 Kalashnikov rifles 100 machine guns, and equipped with Egyptian-made armoured vehicles.

Between 30,000 and 35,000 family members will return to Palestine along with the police - the first substantial 'return' of Palestinians since 1948. A system of three new 'settlers' roads' is to be built in Gaza to allow joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols to escort settlers to and from Israel.

A 'Joint Security Committee' - perhaps the most controversial aspect of the agreements reached so far - will hold weekly meetings attended by representatives of the Israeli and the PLO's intelligence services, officially to prevent the two sides' security forces shooting at each other.

However, the Independent on Sunday has learned that, despite this progress - which also includes provision for 800,000 Palestinians exiled in 1967 and their descendants to return to Jericho and Gaza - the Israelis and the PLO have been unable to resolve a series of serious problems.

In an interview in Tunis this weekend, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, threatened to withdraw from the peace process altogether if the Israelis did not stop what he called their manoeuvring.

'I offered all the flexibility and effort but the other side is not responding. I left my team in Cairo under orders to continue but I do not know if the Israelis will come back to finalise or to manoeuvre,' he said of the talks that are to begin again today.

The two sides have still not agreed on the legal jurisdiction each side will have over Palestinians and settlers in the other's territory and the 'safe passage' arrangements for Palestinians travelling between Jericho and Gaza.

They have failed to devise a court system or agreed rules of engagement that would allow Palestinian or Israeli security forces to defend their own citizens. No Palestinians from Syria or Lebanon are permitted to join the PLO's police, at least in the first phase of the deployment, and even the exact size of the PLO's area of control in Jericho - at present about 57 square kilometres - has not been settled.

Nor can the advance party of the PLO's police enter Gaza and Jericho until seven days before Mr Arafat and the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, sign the 'interim phase' autonomy agreement - a date still so uncertain that Mr Arafat may have to break his promise to enter his 'capital', Jericho, in a month's time.

Inside Story, pages 14-15