Leaders get 'peace wagon' rolling: Rabin and Arafat hold historic meeting in Cairo to push ahead plans for Palestinian self-rule

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LOOKING like a man who urgently wants results, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, took the driving seat of the new 'peace wagon' yesterday, telling Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), at a summit in Cairo, that lofty words of peace must now be translated into action.

And looking like a man who was enjoying the limelight of statesmanship and a new 'world approved' stamp, Mr Arafat assured Mr Rabin that the PLO is ready for self-rule and will not lag behind.

The summit, the first working meeting between the two leaders, three weeks after they shook hands in Washington, was called by Mr Rabin, following Israeli fears that the PLO was stalling and unprepared for self-rule. The two sides have agreed this should be implemented in the occupied territories, starting in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Yesterday's hard talking brought swift results. At separate press conferences afterwards the two men announced agreement on a new planning agenda for Palestinian autonomy, confirming that detailed negotiations on all practical issues will begin as scheduled on 13 October.

On that date, two new Israeli- Palestinian committees will convene. Military and civilian planners will meet in Taba, in the Egyptian Sinai, to discuss how and when Israeli forces are to withdraw from Gaza and Jericho, and to arrange for a transfer of powers in these areas.

In Cairo, a second 'liaison committee' will meet. It is expected to be led for Israel by Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister, and for the PLO by Abu Mazen, Mr Arafat's deputy.

This committee will co-ordinate all future negotiations. In Washington, broader self-rule issues, including plans for elections in nine months' time, will be discussed by the existing peace delegation. A new Israeli-Palestinian economic committee will also be set up.

A fifth committee to look at the status of Jerusalem was announced by Mr Arafat, but Israeli officials said they knew nothing of it. Israel insists Jerusalem is off the agenda.

In Washington, Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat had quoted the Bible and the Koran. Yesterday they talked of the need to examine such issues as taxation, electricity and sewage: the nitty-gritty of Palestinian self-rule. 'Today Gaza gets all its electricity from Israel,' said Mr Rabin, as if announcing a new fact. 'All these issues must be looked at.' The Prime Minister insisted that: 'We are committed to whatever we have signed.' His message to Mr Arafat had been: 'We must move on the peace wagon,' adding: 'It is not enough to sign. You have to translate this through negotiation into reality.'

Although the summit yesterday did not set out to answer many issues outstanding, it did lay essential foundations, and appeared to have reassured the two old adversaries that their hesitant rapprochement could bear fruit.

Mr Rabin urged Mr Arafat to curb Palestinian violence in the occupied territories while Mr Arafat called for a halt to new Israeli army clampdowns which have raised tensions. The two also discussed PLO demands for the early release of about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Despite the 'nuts and bolts' atmosphere yesterday, the historic context was not forgotten, particularly by the Egyptians, who knew the meeting in Cairo legitimised Egypt's peace deal with Israel 14 years ago. Mr Rabin, thanking his host, President Hosni Mubarak, said Egypt had led the Arab world down the road to peace.

(Photograph omitted)