Palestinians Raise Heat On Israel to Withdraw
Accord possible by mid-July ceremony
A FAILURE yesterday by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to agree on a partial withdrawal of Israeli forces on the occupied West Bank could spark widespread protests and rioting unless an accord is reached soon, analysts and diplomats say.
"If the outstanding problems are not resolved very quickly, we could see a second intifadah [uprising] developing, because Palestinian expectations have been raised to high levels around the July 1 deadline," says Zeev Maoz, a political scientist who heads the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Professor Maoz was referring to the July 1 deadline set by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for reaching an agreement on a partial pullback of Israeli forces and the setting of a date for Palestinian elections, which would give legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority - the body appointed by leader Yasser Arafat to govern the self-rule areas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
Talks between Mr. Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at a marathon eight-hour meeting at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Saturday night failed to resolve outstanding disagreements over security in Arab villages and rural areas and the policing of roads used by 130,000 Jewish settlers who live on the West Bank.
"The parties appear to have reached agreement on an election date and the shape and size of an elected Palestinian council," Maoz says. "They must now agree on the nature, scope, and timing of a redeployment of Israeli security forces."
The two leaders emerged from the session shortly after dawn yesterday without a hoped-for agreement that would govern the complex withdrawal from the West Bank - the home of about 1 million Palestinians and about 130,000 Jewish settlers.
Despite the failure of the two parties to meet the deadline for an agreement, Western diplomats were hopeful the two sides would reach an accord in time for a July 17 meeting in Washington that US officials have suggested as the date for a signing ceremony.
According to Western diplomats close to the talks, Israel has agreed to an initial withdrawal of Israeli troops from six West Bank towns by the end of the year or before Palestinian elections are held.
But Palestinian negotiators are demanding a more extensive withdrawal, and want Arafat's Palestinian police to take charge of security in the rural areas of the West Bank and establish joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols on roads used by settlers.
Israel insists that it must maintain exclusive control of roads used by settlers to ensure their
BUT the prospect of an agreement has been complicated by mounting rank-and-file support for a two-week-old hunger strike by about 3,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
"The Palestinians have succeeded in putting the prisoner issue on the agenda, but they have not managed to establish a direct linkage between a prisoner release and the redeployment issue," Maoz says.
Palestinian officials also say there will not be an agreement without action on the release of Palestinian prisoners.
"What is clear to all of us now is that as long as the prisoners continue their [two-week-old] hunger strike, there will be no deal with Israel on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank," says Jiries Atrash, director of Arafat's office in the West Bank town of Jericho.
The hunger strike has led to spontaneous solidarity protests throughout the Israeli-occupied territories and daily clashes between Palestinian activists and Israeli security forces, which have claimed several lives in the past two weeks.
This week, Faisal Husseini, the senior Palestinian representative in Jerusalem, and several other Palestinian officials joined the protesters in a sympathy hunger strike outside the offices of the Red Cross in Jerusalem.
Human rights workers and Palestinian activists say that the wave of protests and clashes are reminiscent of the intifadah, a spontaneous Palestinian uprising that began in 1987 and ended with the commencement of peace talks in Madrid in 1991.
About 5,600 Palestinian political prisoners are still being held in Israeli jails. It is estimated by Palestinian officials that about 3,000 of those prisoners have joined the hunger strike.
The Palestinians are demanding that they all be released. Israel claims that it has already released about 5,000 prisoners since the Israeli-Palestinian accord was signed in Washington in September 1993.
The Israeli government claims that about 1,500 of the remaining prisoners are not eligible for release because they committed offenses since the accord was signed, while another 700 do not qualify because they are responsible for killing or wounding Israelis. Israel has released several thousand prisoners since the 1993 accord and insists that the release of the remaining prisoners should be negotiated.