Rabin and Arafat pledge progress

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The Independent Online
YASSER ARAFAT, fresh from his first visit to newly autonomous Gaza and Jericho, met Israeli leaders in Paris yesterday and both sides said they had made progress towards the next stages of Palestinian self-rule.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, quoted Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the late Ivory Coast president, to sum up his view of how the process should be managed. 'Let us proceed slowly for we are in a hurry,' he said.

Mr Rabin, Mr Arafat and Shimon Peres, Israel's Foreign Minister, were in Paris to receive the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize at the headquarters of Unesco in a three-hour ceremony which at times looked like a handshaking and hugging contest, with Mr Rabin side-stepping all but the most formal approaches.

Recalling his own historic but hesitant handshake with Mr Arafat in Washington last September, Mr Rabin said 'both sides must calculate their steps slowly, with prudence and care, for a century of hatred does not dissolve suddenly with a handshake in Washington'.

Peace, he said, would be real with the arrival of complete normality, such as when Palestinian policemen slapped traffic fines on Israeli drivers and Israeli doctors delivered Palestinian babies, and with 'the smile of a Palestinian lifeguard towards Israeli bathers on the beach'.

'The enemies of peace are even more numerous than we imagined. Extremists of both sides are lying in wait for us.'

Mr Arafat, saying he hoped the peace process would include Syria and Lebanon, said the areas under self-rule could not become a 'minaret of civilisation and progress and a haven of tolerance' without foreign help, particularly economic aid.

'This aim cannot be attained,' he said, 'without the active participation of the international community, the economically advanced countries, international financial institutions and the donor countries which should assume their moral, political and material responsibilities and offer prompt and adequate assistance.'

Mr Arafat had his first meeting with the Israeli leaders since the tense Cairo ceremony of two months ago, when he balked at signing an agreement until he received clarification. This time the atmosphere was more relaxed.

Mr Rabin said they had agreed to set up three committees to deal with remaining problems concerning Gaza and Jericho autonomy, on the transfer of civilian responsibilities to Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank and on organising a conference with Egypt and Jordan on Palestinian refugees.

Mr Arafat said at a press conference that the first two hours of the Paris talks had given 'a fresh impulse . . . the meeting was positive and fruitful. We agreed on some major issues and some other issues will require more discussions.'

In his speech at Unesco, Mr Rabin told the story of an Israeli family with four sons. One was killed when his house caught fire during fighting on the Golan Heights; another was a paratrooper shot by a gunman hiding in a cave; a third died in the 1973 October war when his unit was fighting against the Egyptian army. The mother died of cancer and the father died 'of a broken heart over the loss of his sons, one after the other.

'There remains the fourth, last son: Amiram Kaplan,' Mr Rabin concluded. 'For your sake, Amiram, for our children and their children, we are moving towards peace. We are proceeding slowly and we shall hurry to bring it to you. That is our vow to you.'

At these words, Mr Arafat rose from his seat on the platform to congratulate the Israeli Prime Minister with a handshake.

(Photograph omitted)