Rabin confident of a deal in the peace talks 'bazaar'

AFTER the latest Israeli-Palestinian rifts over the peace accord, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, yesterday appeared resolute and confident, insisting that 'there will be time' for the disputes to be resolved.

At a briefing for British journalists, before a visit to the region by Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Rabin was clearly attempting to counter the sense of crisis which has built up around the negotiations this week. During meetings in Cairo, attempts between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel to agree terms for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho once again failed.

Mr Rabin, however, yesterday rose above the anger and acrimony of the negotiating table, presenting himself as a seasoned and patient bargainer, who is determined to stand by his position but is taking a long view.

Rejecting suggestions that negotiations this week had disintegrated into chaos, he said: 'Negotiations in the Middle East look like a Middle-Eastern bazaar - don't take it too seriously at any given moment. We will have to judge it after a certain long process. One has to have patience. We have patience.'

Then, tantalising his fellow bargainer, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mr Rabin said he would take a few days before giving his verdict on a new PLO offer. 'We will consider it next week. Tomorrow is a Saturday - a day of rest,' he said.

That Mr Rabin is keeping his head, while others around him are losing theirs, stems in part from the knowledge that his tough stance in the talks is improving his public approval ratings at home. Government officials have in recent days been countering the consensus view that it would be a political disaster for Mr Rabin if the agreement with the Palestinians were to be deadlocked. Rather, they say, Mr Rabin can switch his attention from the Palestinians to the talks with Syria, and the possibility of a deal over the Golan Heights. Mr Rabin has recently been keen to paint Hafez

al-Assad, the Syrian President, as a man he can do with business with, 'a man of his word', inviting comparisions with Mr Arafat, who is accused of inconsistency.

The Prime Minister's confidence stems from his view that he firmly believes that he has boxed Mr Arafat into a corner in the talks. Israel is convinced that its refusal to give in to Palestinian demands on the central sticking-point - control at the border entry points into Gaza and Jericho - is reasonable, and that Mr Arafat must realise this soon. Mr Rabin spelt out the position clearly yesterday, saying that according to the September agreement, Israel keeps responsibility for 'external security' in the autonomous areas, and this means having control over who enters. Mr Rabin repeated yesterday that he fears '100,000 Palestinian refugees' may flood into the self-rule areas - among them armed militants.

The dispute over what is meant by 'external security' has raised questions about the viability of the entire Declaration of Principles, which is full of vaguely worded phrases. Some critics suggest that the two sides were only able to sign the agreement in September because they agreed at the time to defer their differences. Now these differences are exposed, the sides are as far apart as ever.

Yesterday Mr Rabin conceded that the agreement had left open to interpretation many areas which now had to be discussed. Israel, he said, was ready to talk about interpretation, not about compromises.