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>PD May 8, 1995, V3, #84

Peres Meets with Palestinians in Cairo

By Laurie Kassman (Cairo)

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is in Cairo for a meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Liaison Committee, to work on problems blocking progress in talks on autonomy for the West Bank. PLO Planning Minister Nabil Shaath heads the Palestinian delegation. Peres is also meeting with top Egyptian officials during his overnight stay.

Peres and Shaath are trying once again to smooth over disputes that are delaying efforts to expand self-rule to the West Bank.

Topics on the agenda include Palestinian elections, long overdue from the original July 1994, deadline. The two men are also expected to discuss Israeli policy on settlements and probably the latest confiscation of land in east Jerusalem.

Before he left Cairo Sunday, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat again condemned the Israel action as a violation of UN resolutions and of the Declaration of Principles guiding the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Clinton Meets with Rabin

By Deborah Tate (Washington)

President Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Sunday to discuss the Middle East peace process. Both men addressed a Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby.

Before the address last night, they held a private meeting to assess the status of the peace process. The meeting came as Israel is planning to confiscate Palestinian-owned land in Jerusalem to build Jewish housing.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who met with Rabin Friday, has expressed Washington's concern over the Israeli plans. But US officials would not say whether Clinton raised the issue with the prime minister yesterday.

Spokesman Mike McCurry did say the two leaders discussed the prospects for peace between Israel and Syria.

Autonomy is One Year Old

By Al Pessin (Gaza City)
This weekend marked the first anniversary of Palestinian autonomy. Last year, on May 13, Israeli troops withdrew from Jericho on the West Bank and on May 18 they completed their withdrawal from most of the Gaza Strip, except for areas near Jewish settlements.

The Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border is a 300-meter no-man's-land. Lone travelers walk between the Israeli and Palestinian checkpoints. Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons inspect them from behind bunkers of concrete and sand bags.

On a particular day last week, another closure is in effect, keeping Palestinians and their products out of Israel for security reasons.

Among those waiting at the border is the Palestinian Minister of Local Government, Sa'eb Erakat, one of the chief negotiators with Israel. "If we are going to analyze things, the difficulties we're facing, we will come to the one conclusion -- that Israel in the past year failed to change its mentality from that of the occupier to that of the neighbor, and that's been the crux of the problem."

The situation at the Erez crossing that day mirrored Erakat's gloomy assessment. Inside the Strip, the mood was not much better.

It was a busy market day, and Palestinian police were directing traffic. But at the planning ministry, the official in charge of helping Gaza's private sector says the closures -- 190 days in the last year by the Palestinian count -- have not only caused unemployment of more than 50 per cent and eliminated billions of dollars of income, but have also caused the near financial ruin of many of Gaza's farmers and manufacturers. The official, Yasser Najar, says the economy has hit bottom, and that is affecting the prospects for the success of the peace process.

And Palestinian leaders say that aside from economic difficulties, their people are frustrated by continuing delays in the plan to expand the autonomous area to include most of the occupied West Bank. That was to have been completed last July. Now, the two sides hope to reach agreement on exactly how to proceed by July 1.

But Israeli officials tell a different story. In a recent interview, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the problems can be overcome if the Palestinian Authority would do more to control violent opposition to the peace accord. He said delays in expanding autonomy have led many people to focus on the problems of the peace process, but, he said, much has changed for the better for the Palestinians in the last year.

"Things have changed dramatically. You know, the city of Gaza is 7,000 years old. Never in history has been a Palestinian Authority in the Gaza City or in the Gaza Strip. It's a first-time experience. Secondly, never did the Palestinians have a right to educate their own children, neither under the Turks or the British or the Egyptians or the Jordanians and ourselves. It is for the first time that the Palestinians have the right to educate their own children in Gaza and the West Bank. So these are only two examples about the dramatic change that has appeared."

Peres says he is not too worried about the reported reduction in support for the peace process among Palestinians. He says he is more interested in the actual negotiating position of the Palestinian Authority, and in finally ending the delays and moving the peace process forward.

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