US Assures PA of Israeli Intentions
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Palestinian Authority today published a letter from the United States stating that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak would carry out further redeployments from disputed lands even if a framework for permanent status talks is not reached.
The letter, signed by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, was presented to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in the context of last week's signing of the Sharm el-Sheik or Wye II agreement.
The letter also reiterated President Bill Clinton's view that further settlement in the West Bank by Israel is detrimental to the peace process, and that the US supports Palestinian aspirations to determine their own future in their own land.
The Sharm el-Sheik agreement, signed in Egypt Saturday by Barak and Arafat in the presence of Albright and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was approved by the Israeli Cabinet on a vote of 21-2 Sunday, though it is due to be debated by a special Knesset session on Wednesday, when it must receive final approval.
The PA cabinet approved the agreement Monday, saying that it "reiterates its full commitment to signed agreements."
Speaking from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, Clinton said the agreement represented a "wonderful opportunity to move the peace process forward."
Clinton acknowledged that there would be "much hard work ahead for all of us," and called on Congress to be forthcoming with the funds needed to fulfill US promises to "minimize the risks of peace," and "lift the lives of the Palestinians."
Among other things, the Sharm el-Sheik agreement aims to quickly restart 'permanent status' negotiations and conclude a "comprehensive agreement" on all permanent status issues within one year of resuming those talks, with a target date of September 13, 2000. Those issues include the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, settlements and permanent borders.
On another matter that had threatened to stall negotiations, the agreement calls for the release this month of 200 Palestinian "security prisoners" held by Israel, with another 150 to be released in a second stage next month.
The prisoners to be released would be agreed upon by a joint Palestinian - Israeli committee, which will also try to come up with a third list of prisoners to be released before the next Islamic holiday of Ramadan.
The new agreement also commits Israel to the opening of safe passage routes for Palestinians and permits the construction of a Gaza seaport by October.
Regarding security, the Palestinians pledged to continue the collection of illegal weapons and apprehension of those suspected of committing terrorist attacks.
Another immediate commitment for Israel is the transfer of land from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Israel is due to hand over seven percent of what is popularly called the West Bank - what Israelis know as Judea and Samaria - to Palestinian municipal control, while Israel will maintain security in the area.
Barak said that it was "difficult" and "painful" for Israelis to separate from parts of the "Land of Israel." In a statement released after the signing, Barak said he has "emotional connections (to the land), which stem from both the power of our history and the fact that Israelis - under the aegis of successive governments - have invested their lives and dreams in settling the land, which has public, emotional and security significance."
Barak added that he is certain the "political process will strengthen the long-term security of the State of Israel and its citizens."
But Yehudit Tayar, spokesperson for Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, disagreed that the plan will strengthen Israel's security. She told CNSNews.com that although this phased pullback is not likely to affect Jewish settlers in the area, she predicted that in the "long run everything (including all of Israel) will be affected."
According to Tayar, two-thirds of Israel's water supply lies in the region and military convoys use the area for travel. It also contains the mountaintops on which Israel's early warning systems are situated.