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Israeli Cabinet Approves Palestinian Self-Rule Plan

By David Hoffman
The Washington Post

JERUSALEM

The Israeli government Monday night approved a broad understanding worked out jointly with the Palestine Liberation Organization calling for the transfer of authority to Palestinians for governing the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said a written version of the agreement could be ratified this week by Israeli and Palestinian delegations, which resume peace talks Tuesday in Washington.

Ultimately, the declaration of principles, if fully implemented, could clear the way for Israeli troops to begin pulling back from Gaza and Jericho, and for a new Palestinian government to take charge of health, education, welfare, agriculture and tourism. Over a five-year period, the Palestinian government would be expanded to much of the rest of the West Bank.

But extensive negotiations over the details must still take place, starting with the 11th round of peace talks in Washington this week, and Israeli officials said the document leaves open many questions. "There is potential to blow it up in every sentence," an Israeli official said.

Opponents among both Israelis and Palestinians vowed to block any agreement. Militant Palestinians threatened to kill PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who has supported the plan. Crowds of Jewish protesters clashed with police here Monday night and a prominent opposition member of parliament locked himself inside a synagogue in Jericho in protest.

"Every solution entails risks, but the time has come to take a risk for peace," Rabin told members of his governing coalition in parliament. "There is movement along the whole Arab front in readiness for peace. There are obstacles. There are difficulties. But I'm convinced the horizons for peace are open."

The proposal touched off a fierce debate in parliament, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, heckled as he defended it, shouted at the opposition: "You are the men of yesterday. The world has changed. There is no conflict between America and the Soviet Union. There is no supply of weapons from the Soviet Union to the Arab countries.

"We bring news to the younger generation that after 100 years of terror, there is no return to the same situation. Rather, we will start 100 years of understanding and living together, each people with its flag, each people with its book of prayer."

Rabin acknowledged for the first time that there had been secret contacts with Palestinians "from outside the (occupied) territories," although he did not directly say the PLO. In the past, he had insisted Israel would deal only with Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. But last week, Peres worked out an understanding with a senior PLO figure while in Norway that formed the basis for the plan approved Monday night by the cabinet.

Peres told the parliament that Israel will not recognize the PLO unless it removes from its charter a call for armed struggle against Israel and halts violent attacks on Israeli targets. Officials said there was no agreement for mutual Israeli-PLO recognition in the plan, but that could follow later if Israel's conditions are met.

The plan would designate the Gaza Strip, a territory of 140 square miles and a population of about 650,000, and Jericho, where fewer than 30,000 of the West Bank's 1 million Palestinians live, as the first areas where Palestinians could begin to run their own affairs as Israeli troops depart. Later, self-rule for the Palestinians would be gradually expanded to the rest of the West Bank, but with all Israeli Jews and their settlements in the territory excluded. The Palestinians would exercise control through an elected council.

In effect, the plan gives the Palestinians somewhat more authority over the topics and regions under their control than previous Israeli proposals would have. For example, the Palestinians would be allowed to pass legislation and field their own police force. But at the same time, the scope of the Palestinians' authority appears to be less than they had sought in previous proposals. It would not cover Jerusalem nor Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which would be separate and remain under the authority of Israel. Israeli army bases and all roads and highways would also be exempt from Palestinian control.

"Arafat may get a bit more autonomy, and less territory," a senior Israeli government official said.

The cabinet approval means Israel's delegation is under instructions to support the plan once it is submitted by the United States.

In parliament Monday, however, the opposition accused Peres of appeasement of the PLO, which Israel long regarded as a terrorist organization. Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud, said the plan is "leading to one thing -- PLO statehood right next to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem."

Rafael Eitan, leader of the nationalist Tsomet Party, said, "Gaza first means Israel the end."