Arafat hopes for progress in new talks with Israel: Border controls and size of Jericho area remain in dispute as Israel allows more Palestinian deportees to go home

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The Independent Online
TALKS are expected to resume in Paris today between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation to try to overcome the delay in implementing their agreement on Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho area, the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, said in Tunis yesterday.

Mr Arafat blamed the Israelis for going back on agreements, and expressed hope that the new meeting would make progress. 'We hope we will reach some agreements through it. It is regrettable what the Israelis are doing after they committed themselves to what was agreed on,' he said.

At issue is control over the boundaries of the new Palestinian entity. The two sides cannot agree on the size of the Jericho area, nor on who should control access to the areas. The PLO executive committee, the highest decision making body within the organisation, met yesterday to discuss a report from its delegates to the secret talks over the weekend in Norway. Afterwards it issued a statement insisting that control of checkpoints was the key to implementation of the self-rule agreement.

Palestinians plead that the Israelis should make some concession on border controls. But Mr Arafat's interpretation of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) is at variance with Israel's. Mr Arafat might wish to demonstrate to his people, increasingly frustrated at the lack of signs on the ground that the accord is working, that he is laying the first foundations of the Palestinian state, with such trappings of sovereignty as border checks.

The Israelis reject the Palestinian demands simply by referring to the text of the DOP, as it is known in diplomacy-speak. This provides for 'interim self-government arrangements' for the occupied territories; it clearly states that Israel 'will continue to carry the responsibility for defending against external threats, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order'.

The Israelis have always been unwilling to entrust control of who comes into the territories during this period of gradual handover to anybody else. They fear that in ceding control of entrants to the Gaza strip from Egypt would mean they would have little control over who entered Israel, since the checkpoints from the Gaza Strip into Israel proper are far less rigorous.

An Israeli minister who met the PLO in Norway said yesterday that the delay in giving the Palestinians self-rule was harming the peace process and there was an urgent need to end the dispute over security arrangements.

'Both they (Palestinians) and we understand that every delay and any setback . . . only complicates matters and produces more and more difficulties,' said the Environment Minister, Yossi Sarid.

'There has definitely been progress but the extent of the progress can be judged only when the two sides resume their talks,' he said.

Uri Savir, the Foreign Ministry Director-General and one of the key negotiators, said: 'We've still got a lot of work to do.'

The Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, who led the Israeli team, told reporters: 'Some interesting suggestions were raised by both sides.' He reiterated that Israel would not compromise on its security.

As evidence, Israeli military officials said that three senior figures among the Palestinian deportees allowed back from exile in southern Lebanon last week will remain in an Israeli prison for at least six months. They include Dr Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the Gaza doctor who was spokesman for the Islamic militants.

(Photograph omitted)