Aspects of the Washington Israel-PLO Agreement

Article excerpt

With the Washington Agreement, Israel, the PLO and the countries that support it, have set up the field for a five years' hurdle race. At every hurdle that one of the runners does not jump the race can end.

To start with, Israel is to transfer authority from its Military Government and Civil Administration to ~authorized Palestinians' in five spheres ranging from education to tourism. There is to be a Joint Israeli-Palestinian Liaison Committee plus an Economic Co-operation Committee that is to work on 13 specified sectors of the social structure from Water and Finance to the Media.

It is not said who selects and empowers these ~authorized Palestinians' and whether the Israelis will have a word. But it is obvious that it is Yassar Arafat and his faction of Fatah, the PLO key organization, that will decide. Revealingly, at the last minute, before Mr. Abbas, Arafat's current chief adviser, signed the Washington Accord, Arafat insisted that in the references to the Palestinian side in the text the term ~Palestinian' must be changed to ~PLO'. Thus Palestine was everywhere identified with the PLO, in fact with the Arafat faction of Fatah.

Another factor enters here. The PLO is made up of several Palestinian organizations of which Fatah is one. The PLO has several central bodies of which the General Assembly of around 600 members is the basic one that adopted years ago its Charter that calls for the elimination of the state of Israel and formally this has not been changed. Arafat's officials explained before the Washington Accord that it would take too much time to assemble it. But it has not been called yet after the meeting. Again, the top Executive Council gave Arafat only a tiny majority for the Washington Accord with non-Fatah members being absent and even some Fatah members like Mr. Kadoumi, the Foreign Affairs ~Minister', having resigned in protest.

It is obvious that Arafat wants to have complete control of the procedure on the Palestinian side in order to ensure that only his own Slipporters are selected for the various Committees and bodies. It is generally recognized that there is strong opposition to the Washington Accord among some Palestinians of all sections of society and that it will not be easy for Arafat's staff to find the score of delegates and officials that are needed. It is also obvious that the Israelis will have to have a say in the selection of members of these Committees and Authorities.

There is, of course, a remarkable and hardly discussed anomaly in that Washington Accord that creates serious uncertainties. It has hardly ever happened that a state, Israel, has made a formal, binding accord with a political organization, especially when such an accord covers a detailed programme of action over a period of years. Arafat's insistence on the term ~PLO' instead of Palestine makes that anomaly more tricky. Nothing is being said about the PLO ratifying the Accord. The Accord leaves it to an ~Interim Agreement' to specify the structure and powers of the ~Palestinian Council' to be elected not later than July 13th, 1994. This Council is to have legislative and executive authority. It is to start negotiations for a permanent settlement with Israel on December 13th, 1995, at the latest.

Now that new Council will not be the PLO. Therefore it will not be bound, or expected to be bound, by the Permanent Settlement that is supposed to have been worked out by then. It is likely to demand changes. And nobody could blame it. Thus, by insisting on the PLO and not Palestine being the partner in the five years progress towards that undefined ~permanent settlement' Arafat obtained freedom of argument, action and responsibility by his last minute manoeuvre that exploited the commitment President Clinton had entered into. In essence it means that in December 1995 the new Council can refuse to ratify what has been worked out and ask for more, especially regarding a Palestine state which the Israelis have been careful not to agree to in the Accord. …