Rabin and Arafat meet to pursue talks on Palestinian autonomy

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The Independent Online
THE Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, are due to meet today at the Erez checkpoint between Israel and the Gaza Strip to explore ways of implementing Palestinian autonomy in the areas vacated by Israel. It will be their first meeting in the area.

Ahmed Qorei, also known as Abu Ala, the PLO's Finance Minister and one of the key negotiators of the Oslo accords, said that the meeting was sought by both sides. 'There are many topics on the agenda of the meeting, foremost of which is the completion of the interim agreement to cover all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, excluding the topics that are left for final- status negotiations,' he said.

The Hebrew daily Haaretz said Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat were also expected to discuss a joint appeal for contributions to run the Palestinian government until a tax system can be set up. Funds promised by Western nations have been delayed until the Palestinians set up special accounting systems.

Yesterday a World Bank official announced his organisation would immediately help finance the budget deficit of the Palestinian national authority, and speed up the release of project finance.

Mr Rabin has openly expressed his frustration at what he considers the Palestinians' lack of preparedness to assume responsibility for administering day-to-day functions in the Gaza strip. The Palestinians blame continued obstructions by the Israelis and the non-arrival of funds pledged by Western donors. The prickly relationship between Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat contrasts with the far more trusting one between Mr Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan.

These two met on the Red Sea on Monday together with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who left the region saying he had done all he could to advance negotiations between Israel and Jordan.

Yesterday Jordanian and Israeli negotiating teams met to try to translate the broad principles reached in Washington on 25 July into a formal peace treaty.

After a short plenary session negotiators broke into groups on security, on water, energy and environment, civil aviation, economy and trade, terminals and crossing points, police and drugs, tourism and joint projects.