Israel and PLO edge towards deal: Framework agreed for resolving deadlock

SHIMON PERES, Israel's Foreign Minister and chief peace negotiator, reported broad agreement with the Palestinians in talks in Cairo yesterday on resolving differences delaying implementation of Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory. However, the Palestine Liberation Organisation said that the two sides still differed over control of border crossings into the Gaza Strip and Jericho area after Israel withdraws.

Though details were scanty, the two sides appeared to have agreed on a framework on how to resolve the dispute, rather than on a resolution of the dispute itself. The characteristically upbeat Mr Peres had cautioned before this latest round of talks that he was making no more concessions and the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, would have to come down from his tree.

Yesterday at a joint news conference with the chief PLO negotiator, Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen), Mr Peres said: 'The two delegations have reached a meeting of minds on the central issues of the border crossings, the size of Jericho and matters relating to the Gaza Strip.

'The leadership of the two parties will now have to accept or reject this statement,' Mr Peres said, apparently referring to a draft agreement. He later turned to Abu Mazen, smiled, and said quietly: 'I hope the leaders follow the wisdom of the delegations.'

Mr Peres, however, gave no indication of what exactly had been agreed. Israel has insisted that it should retain control of the crossings from Jordan into the Jericho area, and from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, once the first phase of the PLO-Israel accord is implemented. It says that it cannot compromise on national security. The PLO, seeking to establish from the outset what is tantamount to sovereign control over these areas, has stated it must exercise that function over the border crossings.

Abu Mazen said there were points to be resolved. He told the news conference: 'The negotiations were constructive. There were some ideas that will be discussed and we will continue to consult . . . we hope to reach an agreement.'

He added: 'There are still differences about the issue of the crossings and other issues that will be discussed . . . We hope to meet again as the liaison committee within a week.'

There were strong indications yesterday that the PLO had failed to budge Israel on the crossing issue. In Tunis, the executive committee of the PLO rejected the latest Israeli proposals, and insisted that Palestinians must have total control of border crossings, with both a Palestinian and an international presence at crossing points. The PLO statement said: 'The Israeli side has gone back to insisting on total control and supervision of all crossings and bridges leading to the Gaza Strip and the area of Jericho from which the Israeli army will withdraw. This will make this withdrawal no more than a redeployment of Israeli forces . . . and empty it of all meaning.'

Yet despite the rhetoric, the two sides are committed to the accord, and neither can afford to let it fall apart through further delays.