Palestinians hope Clinton visit will lock Israel into peace deal

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The Independent Online
PALESTINIANS ARE looking forward to an important bonus from last week's Wye agreement: the sight of President Clinton addressing the Palestine National Council soon in Gaza or Ramallah.

Mr Clinton, who spoke on Friday of "the long struggle of the Palestinian people" is bringing the US closer than it has ever been to recognising Palestinian self-determination. His commitment to addressing the supreme Palestinian body will make it more difficult for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to delay the withdrawal agreed at Wye. Israeli commentators agree that the White House was enraged by the tactics of the Israeli delegation at the talks, notably their threat to walk out.

Israelis and Palestinians were still digesting the details of the Wye agreement yesterday, with right-wing Jewish settlers on the West Bank unable to express their feelings because of the Jewish sabbath. A Western diplomat said: "It is critical to see if this is implemented. After all, most of it is a reiteration of what was agreed before."

The Palestinian Authority, which rules the autonomous Palestinian enclaves, yesterday made its first move against Hamas, the Islamic militant movement, by stopping journalists in Gaza speaking to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement's leader. Police said his views were contrary to those of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians remain sceptical about the new agreement, simply because they argue that the Oslo accords were not fulfilled. They will also be concerned that only 750 out of some 3,000 Palestinians will be released. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for Mr Netanyahu to procrastinate over the next three months, particularly as the CIA and not Israel is to decide if the Palestinian Authority is implementing the security plan.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, has agreed to the arrest of 30 Palestinians named by Israel as being behind violence against it. There is also to be a reduction in the size of the Palestinian police from 40,000 to 24,000 and the confiscation of illegal arms. In return, he is to see the territory he wholly or partially controls increased to 40 per cent of the West Bank.

Overall, Mr Arafat will come out of the talks well if the agreement is carried out. But Mr Netanyahu faces a revolt by the settler right, who are threatening to close down the West Bank today by blocking roads. They are not numerous but they are highly motivated, well-organised and politically active. Their effectiveness will depend on how far they are supported from within the Israeli leader's own cabinet and party.

Mr Netanyahu only has at most a two-seat majority in the Knesset, and at least seven of his coalition say they will vote against him. But to be effective they would need the support of the Labour party, the left- wing Maretz and Israeli-Arab members, all supporters of Oslo.

The rupture of the right-wing coalition may lead Mr Netanyahu, who does not have to stand for election himself, to seek new Knesset elections. He can claim that he got as much for Israel as was possible, which will satisfy the non-religious right and some of the centre. This may be enough to give him a majority. By bringing Ariel Sharon, the foreign minister, and Yitzhak Mordechai, the defence minister, with him to Wye, he has also associated two of the most powerful members of his cabinet with the deal.

Focus, pages 22 and 23;

Leading article, page 28

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