Palestinians reject Hebron proposals as breaking accord


PALESTINIAN negotiators on the team conducting talks with Israel said yesterday they had rejected Israel's latest proposal on its military redeployment in Hebron because it contravened accords signed with the previous government.

According to Dr Ghassan Khatib, a leading Palestinian commentator close to the negotiations, the Palestine Authority felt it could afford to reject this proposal because the authority has "backing from Europe, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian street. The authority feels stronger than ever before."

As far as Europe is concerned, he said, the Palestinians "do not expect much. . . no more than moral, verbal support. Indeed, Germany has already sent us a message to tell us not to expect more". But the authority does have "strong support from Jordan and Egypt whose treaties with Israel are made uncertain by the refusal of Israel to honour its agreements with the Palestinians".

Dr Khatib told The Irish Times that the Palestinians were particularly distressed because Mr Dennis Ross, the US facilitator, had acted in "such a way as to be balanced in his pressure on the two sides. This means the US has accepted the position on the Hebron redeployment adopted by the Israeli government and is trying to mediate between the sides on new terms rather than on the basis of the agreements formally concluded and ratified by the Israeli Knesset."

Mr Khatib summed up by saying that Mr Ross "is compromising the compromised". His packing up and going home is in the Israelis' favour" because he has not asked them to make concessions to keep the talks going.

Both Dr Khatib and Dr Ibrahim Abu Lughud, who is designing the school curriculum for the authority, believe an agreement will, eventually, be reached on Hebron. "Judging by the pattern set in previous negotiations, we will reach an accommodation," Dr Abu Lughud said. "This pattern inevitably leads only to further concessions by our side because we are weaker. Some of Mr Netanyahu's demands will be met but not all. We will get some token concessions."

Dr Lughud, who lives in Ramallah, said angrily: "We are living under disguised occupation in the other West Bank towns. Hebron will be a different case. We will have a Jewish enclave in the centre of a Palestinian enclave and Israeli control over the whole town rather than self rule. And this situation by us "will be Iegitimised".

A third Palestinian analyst speaking off the record, was bitterly blunt: "There is no limit to what Arafat will be asked to accept. But if he accepts too many of Israel's demands he will lose all credibility and the events of September will be repeated. And the next time the violence will be outside the control of Arafat and his police."

Geraldine Kennedy writes:

President Arafat is to spend today and tomorrow in Dublin at the invitation of the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton.

Accompanied by senior ministers from his government, he will meet the President, Mrs Robinson, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, senior ministers, officials and Opposition leaders over the two days.

The purpose of the visit is to discuss with the Irish EU Presidency the role of the EU in the Middle East peace process.

Mr Arafat will arrive at 4.30 p.m. at Dublin airport where he will he greeted by the Tanaiste and taken to Iveagh House for a meeting. He will have a working dinner with the Taoiseach in Government Buildings tonight.

He will meet Mrs Robinson at Aras an Uachtarain tomorrow and later visit the Dail to meet the Ceann Comhairle, Mr Sean Treacy. It will be President Arafat's second visit to Dublin. He was here in December 1993 when he met the then Taoiseach, Mr Reynolds, and Mr Spring.