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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      July 21, 1995, V3, #132
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Water Decisions are Made, But No Details

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are continuing to work on plans to expand Palestinian autonomy, building on what Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says was important progress in high-level talks on Wednesday in Egypt. Peres told Israel Radio he and the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, reached understandings in a few difficult areas related to an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and the sharing of water resources. He would not give details.

Israel gets more than one-third of its water from sources in the West Bank and is reluctant to give up control over those sources. The Palestinians say they need more of that water for economic development and to improve living standards.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed their talks at a secluded hotel in northern Israel Thursday, working against a self-imposed deadline of next Tuesday. Officials on both sides say they will likely need at least a few days beyond that. Once agreement is reached, Israel will begin turning over control of West Bank cities to the Palestinian Autonomy Authority and Palestinian elections will be held.

One of the first cities expected to go over to Palestinian control is the northern town of Jenin, just 18 miles from the Israeli town where the negotiators are meeting. On Thursday, the Palestinian security chief, Nasr Youssef, toured Jenin to the cheers of local residents. He said "the countdown for the Palestinian Authority's takeover" of the city has started. Youssef called his visit "historic" and told local residents gathered at a school they will soon be celebrating the deployment of Palestinian forces in the area.

On Wednesday, Youssef told foreign correspondents in Gaza he is working to bring in an additional 5,000 Palestinian police from abroad to augment his force when autonomy is expanded beyond Gaza and Jericho.

Freedom of the Press: Palestinian-Style

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

The Palestinian Autonomy Authority has published a law promising press freedom, but also imposing prison terms and high fines for violating various new rules. Some Palestinian journalists and human rights activists are concerned about the new law, but the Palestinian information minister says such concerns are unfounded.

The new law declares press and printing are free and says every Palestinian has the absolute right to express his opinion in a free manner either verbally, in writing, photography, or drawing. But it also prohibits the publication of certain types of material, and imposes jail terms of up to six-months and fines of up to $10,000.

Among the items barred from publication are those the law says contradict the principle of freedom, national responsibilities, human rights and the respect of truth. The new law also prohibits publication of articles which might hurt national unity, be harmful to religion or cause hatred, dissension and disunity among the people.

Such phrases could cover a wide variety of reportage and commentary, and some Palestinian journalists fear the law could be selectively enforced against those who write articles critical of the Palestinian administration. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, who presented the law to reporters this week, says it will be up to the future Palestinian courts to interpret the law. He does not believe it will be used to restrain freedom of expression.

"There are many articles daily that might harm the national unity. We do not say national unity, in general terms. As long as there are not in this article, and this is not my role, this is the role of the court to decide, as long as it does not plant the seeds of hatred and violence in the society."

Abed Rabbo says the law is intended to prohibit incitement to violence and the publication of secret information about the police or armed forces. He says the proceedings of secret government meetings may be reported, as long as any secret documents recording those proceedings are not published.

The law also prohibits reporting about law suits in progress and bans the use of pen-names, unless the true identity of a writer is revealed. It also sets standards for the chief editors of Palestinian publications and provides a journalistic code of ethics. The law places some restrictions on relations between Palestinian journalists and foreign entities, and on foreign publications distributed in Palestinian territory. Abed Rabbo says a separate law covering the activities of foreign journalists in Palestinian areas will be published soon.

Despite Abed Rabbo's explanation of some of the law's most controversial sections, Director Fateh Azzam of the Al Haq Palestinian human rights group is concerned about what he considers vague wording. "That is the problem you run into all the time. Whenever language is excessively elastic and open to interpretation the more insecure your rights are as far as when it can be applied and against whom."
Azzam says his group will study the new Palestinian press law and make recommendations for improving it. He says any laws presented by the current Palestinian Autonomy Authority should be subject to change by the Palestinian parliament, expected to be elected later this year.

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