Israeli-Palestinian summit yields shaky cease-fire pact

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Tuesday to a U.S.-brokered deal designed to end the bloody confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but in the hours after their summit ended, more violence broke out.

The plan will be put to the test in the next few days, when it should become clear whether this cease-fire – backed publicly by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat – has staying power.

President Clinton, appearing somber and exhausted, announced the agreement after the summit. But he did not present it as a triumph and warned of tribulations to come.

"We have made important commitments here today against a backdrop of tragedy and crisis," he said. "We should have no illusions about the difficulties ahead."

The agreement commits both sides to publicly renounce the violence, set up a fact-finding inquiry headed by the United States and establish a timetable for returning to full-scale peace negotiations.

"They have agreed to issue public statements unequivocally calling for an end of violence," Mr. Clinton said. "They also agreed to take immediate, concrete measures to end the current confrontation, eliminate points of friction, ensure an end to violence and incitement, maintain calm and prevent recurrence of recent events."

Despite the agreement, the marathon two-day summit was a somber and stony affair, with no smiles and no handshake between Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat. There were no signed documents codifying what each side had agreed to and precious few signs of good will.

Mr. Clinton said both sides would act "immediately" to return the situation to what it was before the bloodshed started Sept. 28. More than 100 people have died in the fighting, which has raged across the Palestinian territories and at times inside Israel.

Vicious clashes continued Tuesday both during and after the summit. The firefights moved to the edge of Jerusalem, when Palestinians opened fire on the largely Jewish suburb of Gilo and seriously wounded an Israeli border policeman and two others.

A Palestinian policeman died after a gunbattle in Gaza. There were also intense clashes in the town of Bethlehem, which had been mostly quiet until this week. The violence started after the funeral of a young Palestinian boy who was killed there Monday.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders, who did not speak at the brief ceremony marking the end of the summit, called on one another to implement the agreement first, raising the prospect that this cease-fire, like several earlier ones, may collapse.

Both leaders were required to "immediately" denounce the use of violence, but neither did so publicly Tuesday.

Mr. Barak insisted that the violence stop before Israeli security forces would lift the closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and pull back; Mr. Arafat said the Israeli troops must be withdrawn immediately.

Mr. Barak, whose political standing has sunk amid the current crisis, said he would open the West Bank and Gaza Strip if there were quiet in the Palestinian territories for the next two days.

"After 48 hours, if we see there is calm in the field, we will pull back our heavy equipment to the point where they were before the outbreak of the crisis, and we will lift the closure," he said.

But Mr. Arafat, who returned to his base in Gaza, called for an unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces and an opening of the area to normal travel.

"The most important thing in yesterday's and today's events is the implementation," he said after arriving in Gaza. "We expect it to be an accurate and honest implementation of what has been agreed on."

Mr. Arafat's lieutenants spoke out against the summit pact, and the leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas called the accord worthless and invalid because it was "imposed on the Palestinian people" by the United States.

The influential leader of the Tanzim militia in the West Bank, who has been involved in numerous firefights with Israeli forces in recent weeks, said the summit failed because it did not address the root cause of the problem.

"We have to put an end to the Israeli occupation," Marwan Barghouthi said. "They failed to deal with this issue, so I don't think that they succeeded." He said the "peaceful uprising" of the last three weeks would continue until Palestinians had achieved independence from Israel.

Israeli negotiator Gadi Zohar, formerly the chief of civilian administration on the volatile West Bank, said Israel's leaders expected Mr. Arafat to make a serious effort to quell the violence even if he cannot control every youth who wants to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.

"It's hard to judge if Arafat is talking in good faith," Gen. Zohar said. "If we see he is trying to impose a cease-fire on his forces, both organized and disorganized, including the Tanzim and others, then if there are two or three problems, this will not break the agreement."

Gen. Zohar said that CIA Director George Tenet will play a key role in trying to establish procedures to maintain security in the Palestinian territories.

"Both sides have confidence in him, and I believe with his support, we will reach some tranquility, if that is what the Palestinians want," he said. "The security coordination must work."

Mr. Tenet is trying to repair lines of communication between Israeli and Palestinian security forces that have been ruptured in recent weeks.

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that it was not possible for Mr. Arafat to simply decree that the fighting should stop.

"We do not push a button," he said. "We will do our best once Israeli forces are outside and there is an end to the siege suffocating our people."

But the absence of a signed document revealed the uncertainty of both sides about how to proceed.

The agreement also included an Israeli promise to allow the Palestinians to reopen the Gaza airport, which had been closed during the crisis.

In addition, within two weeks, the sides agreed to meet with U.S. negotiators to explore setting a date for resuming talks aimed at reaching the elusive final status agreement envisioned by the Oslo accords signed in 1993.