Arafat, Rabin work on details of coexistence Meeting marked by absence of warmth


CAIRO, Egypt -- The honeymoon over the Great Handshake ended yesterday as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat stiffly got down to the nitty-gritty of negotiating coexistence under Palestinian self-rule.

Meeting for 90 minutes at the presidential palace, the two former warriors agreed to set up four teams to work out the details of Arab autonomy, particularly in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. The Israeli army is slated to start withdrawing from those two territories later this year.

But the summit had none of the charm or symbolic gestures of good will that took place when Israel and the PLO signed the historic protocol for peacemaking and the two leaders sealed the deal with a White House handshake Sept. 13.

Despite pleas by news photographers, Mr. Rabin yesterday refused to shake Mr. Arafat's hand for the cameras. And Messrs. Arafat, Rabin and their host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, all spoke separately to reporters afterward.

"I believe it's a very good beginning toward implementation of the Declaration of Principles," said Mr. Rabin, adding that he initiated yesterday's summit. Mr. Rabin had increasingly voiced concern in recent days about whether the Palestinians were laying the groundwork for semi-independence.

Mr. Arafat was similarly guarded in his remarks: "The meeting was useful and positive, and we hope to transfer what we agreed upon on paper easily and smoothly onto the ground," he said.

Messrs. Arafat and Rabin appeared brisk and businesslike and largely handled their roles unceremoniously in a relationship that just months ago was inconceivable.

The chilly atmosphere underscored the realities of the relationship between the two sides: Rather than a love affair between two former military men turned statesmen, it is a shotgun marriage of sorts that has already been marred by several outbursts of bitter violence in the occupied territories, blamed on both sides.

They include several suicide attacks against Israeli targets carried out by radical Muslims who seek to sabotage the PLO and a continued military campaign by the Israeli army, aimed at hunting down extremists and wanted Palestinians.

The Muslim extremist movement Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for several of the suicide attacks, condemned Mr. Arafat yesterday for meeting with Mr. Rabin, saying he was condoning Israeli repression in the occupied territories.

"Mr. Arafat should have kept away from this meeting," Hamas said in a statement faxed to Reuters in Nicosia, Cyprus.

An eerie anniversary hung over the event:

Yesterday marked 20 years since the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

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