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Israeli Officials Say Palestinian Self-Rule At Least a Month Away

By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times
CAIRO, Egypt

Israeli officials cautioned yesterday that a final agreement on Palestinian self-rule is at least a month away, as Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat flew to Jordan to begin bringing other Arabs aboard the slowly escalating peace process.

A day after the two sides initialed agreements on several of the key issues that have prevented the beginning of Israeli withdrawal in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin predicted "it will be at least another month, if not more, until we reach a full agreement, before we begin its realization."

In the occupied Gaza Strip, there was a mood of tempered optimism as Palestinians who have watched the ins and outs of the faltering peace negotiations for months waited for some concrete results.

"Without a doubt, the Palestinians see this as a big step forward. But in the meantime, this will not do anything for them. As long as the Israeli army patrols the streets and alleyways of the (refugee) camps in Gaza, as long as there are prisoners and wounded and roadblocks and unemployment, from the Palestinian perspective, nothing has changed," Suffian Abu Zaida, a PLO activist in the Gaza Strip, told Israel's Army Radio.

The response from hard-liners on both sides was quick. Near Gaza, Islamic militants claimed they kidnapped and killed an Israeli police officer, and authorities confirmed they found a bloodstained car in the area of the alleged attack belonging to a former border police officer.

Israel's right wing condemned the preliminary accord, which they described as a sellout to the Palestinians that will pave the way for more Israeli concessions. "On the surface, it would seem that (Israel) has signed a treaty of surrender which does not even hint at security," said Rehavam Ze'evi, head of the rightist Moledet party. "They gave Arafat the honor that he demanded and thus abandoned the state's security in an irresponsible manner."

The text of the agreement made public yesterday indicates that both sides gave ground, though the Palestinians took the biggest bite of concessions by accepting Israeli control of Jewish settlements in Gaza, ultimate Israeli control of border crossings and limited control of religious and tourism sites outside of Jericho.

On the other hand, Israel agreed to a Palestinian presence and the display of the Palestinian flag at international border terminals, agreed to end humiliating searches of incoming Palestinians in most cases and gave Palestinians a foothold in the lucrative tourist market on the Dead Sea.