ISRAELI TROOPS will begin evacuating West Bank towns next month and all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank will vote in February for a council and executive to govern daily affairs and negotiate with Israel for sovereignty starting next May.
What was promised by the landmark September 1993 agreement between Israel and the PLO, negotiated in secret in Oslo and signed in Washington, is finally coming to fruition. The implementation agreement of some 460 pages, to be signed at the White House Thursday by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat, is more than a year late and more than two months after Mr. Arafat and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres predicted.
It wasn't easy. As more of the mammoth negotiation becomes known, it is clear that the U.S. through Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the constant phoning of Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross played a major role. Both King Hussein of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt were on the horn to Mr. Arafat for support on crucial points.
Some of the accommodations were ingenious. East Jerusalemites will be given the vote through the device of counting the ballots at a location that the PLO considers to be Jerusalem and Israel does not. The chief executive to be elected in February, presumably Mr. Arafat, will have the title "raees," in Arabic, which Palestinians are free to translate into English as president, and Israelis as chairman.
The Israeli presence in the lives of 1.2 million Palestinians will be lifted quickly. Yet Israeli troops will remain nearby and the anguished problem of Hebron is not solved. Palestinian extremists who do not accept the peace will continue to try to destroy it through terrorism, as will a smaller number of extremist Israeli gun-toting settlers.
Two things are achieved. One is what an Israeli diplomat called a "critical mass" in Palestinian nation-building, even though final status is not agreed. The other is that Israel and the Palestinian state become more mutually dependent than even in the past two years.
With the support of more and more Arab bystanders, pressure will now mount on Syria and its client Lebanon to complete the circle of peace with Israel. The hopes in the Oslo accord are at last being fulfilled.