Rabin lets PLO sweat

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The Independent Online
BOTH Israeli and Palestinian leaders were yesterday engaged in their familiar game of peace-talks brinkmanship, with both sides accusing the other of double-dealing and refusing to say when a new round of negotiations would begin.

In Jerusalem, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, said that he was prepared to let the Palestine Liberation Organisation 'sweat' before resuming the talks on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, due to have begun three weeks ago. The Palestinians had last week reneged on draft agreements reached in the Cairo talks, he said.

Following a meeting of the Israeli cabinet yesterday, government sources suggested new talks, due to begin in the Red Sea resort of Taba this week, might be suspended until Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, accepted the Cairo drafts as a basis for the next round of discussions.

Despite the public threats, both sides were keen yesterday to display a willingness to resume negotiations - on their terms. There appeared to be an implicit understanding on the part of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership of each other's need to stand tough before its own public.

Some progress has clearly been made in the recent talks. Differences over how Israeli soldiers should protect Jewish settlements appear to have narrowed. At the same time, Israel has agreed to extend its definition of Jericho - agreeing to hand over an area 55 sq km, instead of its original proposal of about 25 sq km.

At the same time the PLO appears to have relaxed its insistence that Palestinians take over responsibility for security along the boundaries between the autonomous area of the West Bank and Jordan, and between Gaza and Egypt.

Jewish settlers in the Jericho area yesterday made clear their fears that progress is being made by blocking roads in protest. Apparently insoluble differences do remain. The PLO still demands a much wider Jericho area than the one on offer. And creative thinking is urgently needed if the central area of contention - control of border crossing-points - is to be solved. It seems highly unlikely that the PLO will back down from its repeated insistence that Palestinian security forces must have the final say over who enters the new self-rule areas.

While progress in the peace talks falters, Mr Arafat is facing demands from within the PLO for greater accountability. A delegation of Palestinian critics arrived yesterday in Tunis, led by Haidar Abdel Shafi, formerly the chief Palestinian negotiator; they said they would be seeking a broader base for PLO decision-making.

(Photograph omitted)

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