Arafat waxes hopeful on deal with Israel: Davos meeting on implementation of Gaza-Jericho peace accords is long on optimism but short on specifics

YASSER ARAFAT, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, predicted yesterday that the long awaited implementation of the Gaza-Jericho peace accords would begin 'very, very soon', raising new hope that Israel and the PLO are close to solving their differences.

Mr Arafat was speaking at a joint press conference with Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, in Davos, Switzerland, where, after lengthy meetings, the two men held hands and heaped praise upon each other, clearly striving to re-ignite the earlier peace euphoria, after weeks of gloom.

'We are on the way to by-passing the obstacles,' said Mr Arafat. Mr Peres thanked Mr Arafat 'for his supreme effort to bring our two peoples together in the domain of peace and hope'.

In the desert Red Sea resort of Taba attempts to implement the peace agreement have recently faltered. Now, inspired by the snowy mountain scenery of Davos, Mr Peres spoke of Israel and the PLO climbing 'a magic mountain of peace'.

Despite their optimistic words neither man last night presented any details of the draft agreement, and some Israeli officials were urging caution until the terms had been finally signed, sealed and delivered. It is likely that, while outline terms have been agreed, final approval is awaited from Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. There was no reaction from Jerusalem last night.

Mr Rabin is expected to state his position at an emergency cabinet meeting today called to discuss the resignation threat from Haim Ramon, the Health Minister and a leading dove, following a dispute over Israeli trade union reforms.

The messages from the PLO side last night, however, were markedly upbeat, suggesting that they, at least, were happy with the new proposals. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a PLO spokesman, said there was now a compromise on the table and 'we accept it'. He added: 'I can't say that there is any problem holding up the agreement.'

Mr Arafat strongly hinted that the ground was now prepared for another meeting between him and Mr Rabin, probably in Cairo. It is widely expected that a further Israeli-PLO summit would have to precede the final implementation.

In Davos the two sides have been attempting to draft a specific agreement setting out precisely how Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho will be carried out, and how Israel will begin the transfer of powers, as set out in principle in the September Declaration of Principles. Withdrawal was due to have begun on 13 December, according to the timetable of the declaration, but disputes over security issues and control of border crossings prevented it.

Both sides have attempted to brush off the delay in implementation, stressing that the September deal was only an outline and that negotiations would take some time. However, in recent weeks confidence in the ability of the two sides to come together has waned, and some officials have predicted that time was running out. The pressure for a breakthrough at Davos has therefore been intense.

The most contentious issue has been who should have the final say over people entering the newly autonomous areas. Israel has insisted all along that it should have a veto over who crosses the Allenby Bridge into the Jericho zone and the Raffah crossing point into Gaza. The compromise agreed at Davos is likely to involve an Israeli offer to accept a Palestinian presence at the crossings, but to maintain an electronic monitoring safeguard.

Agreement was also being sought in Davos on the size of the Jericho area. Israel has proposed limiting the size of the zone to the municipal boundaries, but has shown some willingness to compromise. The Palestinians have insisted on an area stretching from norther Israel to the tip of the Dead Sea.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, has played an increasingly prominent role in the negotiations and was in Davos. Egypt, the only country to have signed a peace agreement with Israel, is keen to promote its role as mediator in the Middle East peace process.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Professional Services Firm - Oxford

£21000 - £24000 per annum + 21 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Technical Support...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor