Israel & Arafat Sign Off on Land Deal

September 4, 1999 - Uri Dan - The New York Post

JERUSALEM- Israel and the Palestinians agreed last night on a deal to speed a further Israeli pullback from the West Bank - after two furious days of talks with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A key feature of the deal, to be signed tonight in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, is the release of 350 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Sources said the agreement was reached along with U.S. guarantees that neither side will make "unilateral" steps - such as a Palestinian declaration statehood.

"I am pleased to announce that the Israelis and Palestinians have an agreement to implement the Wye agreement," Albright said after a dinner meeting in Gaza City sealed the deal. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat phoned President Clinton with the news, and said afterward: "We have worked hand-in-hand in order to achieve the peace of the brave."

The agreement provides a new timetable for turning over 13 percent of the West Bank, as agreed nearly a year ago at Maryland's Wye River resort. The previous Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon turned over the first 2 percent but then froze the agreement because the Palestinians failed to live up to their commitments, such as reducing their army-sized "police force."

Under the compromise worked out through Albright, Israel agreed to free 200 prisoners next week and another 150 next month. For the first time, Israel will be freeing Palesitnians "with blood on their hands" - meaning they were arrested for murder. Arafat had demanded the release of 400 prisoners, including those charged or convicted of killing Israelis. But Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed that among those released will be some charged with wounding Israelis or killing Palestinians who collaborated with Israel.

At Wye, Netanyahu refused to release prisoners "with blood on their hands" - unless the United States freed jailed spy Jonathan Pollard.

Barak had sought an ironclad guarantee that Arafat would not declare statehood, as he has said he would do next May. Sources said at least one stipulation arranged by Albright assures Israel that Arafat will not take unilateral steps and will enter into talks about the "final" Israeli-Palestinian status early next year.

Albright, who had negotiated with Israeli officials until 4:30 a.m. yesterday, will go to Damascus today to encourage Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to agree to resume long-stalled negotiations with Israel.

See also:
  • The Washington Shuk