Signatures on a peace of paper

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- At a noon ceremony today in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are to sign an agreement for Israel to withdraw troops from large parts of the West Bank. Although there are already disputes about some points, the 400-page accord helps fulfill pledges the two sides made in 1993 for Palestinians to have at least limited self-rule.

Maps showing who will control precisely which territories will be unveiled only today, but the broad outlines of the agreement are known, as described by Doug Struck, The Sun's correspondent in the Middle East.


Does the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians break new ground?

Yes, but in expected ways. Israel promised in the peace accord signed with the Palestinians in 1993 to "redeploy" its troops. But after troops left the Gaza Strip in May 1994, moves to complete the promise were interrupted. Agreement on this latest, detailed plan is seen as a major achievement.


What does the agreement do?

It calls for Israeli troops to leave six major Palestinian cities in the West Bank, and it provides for Israeli and Palestinian patrols in Hebron and more than 400 other towns and villages. It also calls for the first free Palestinian elections, to choose a legislative council and chief executive.

When will these happen?

At least a symbolic Israeli troop withdrawal should occur in 10 days. Troops will then probably pull out entirely from one West Bank city, Jenin, in December. Jenin is part of a north-south arc of affected cities, with Jenin at the northern end and volatile Hebron at the southern. The withdrawals should reach Hebron by March 30. Palestinian elections should be held by April 21. But every deadline in the peace process has been missed, and these dates may slip.

Will Israel then be out of the West Bank?

No. The withdrawal removes Israeli troops from only about 30 percent of the West Bank. The remainder is carved into areas that will be patrolled either jointly by Israeli and Palestinian authorities, or by Israeli forces alone.

What happens to the 125,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank?

They may remain in their enclaves and will be guarded by Israeli troops. That already is the case in the Gaza Strip, under Palestinian autonomy for 17 months.


Most roads and other large "strategic areas" in the West Bank also will remain under Israeli control. The ultimate fate of the settlements will be negotiated during the next stage of talks. Meanwhile, the Rabin government and the Palestinians hope many settlers voluntarily leave.

Why is there so much attention to Hebron?

Hebron is the only West Bank city where Jewish settlers live squarely amid Palestinians. The 400 settlers there are among the most radical, and arrangements to keep them from clashing with 130,000 Arab Hebron residents are complex and problematic. The deal could collapse in violence there.

When Israel withdraws, what does the West Bank become? What country is it?

No country. There will be a patchwork of "Palestinian Autonomous Areas." Israel retains power over borders and much else. But Palestinians hope the autonomous areas will eventually lead to a Palestinian state.

Will this latest agreement end violence between Israel and the Palestinians?


Not soon. Mr. Rabin predicted this week it could take 30 years for hatred on both sides to fade. In the short term, the agreement may even bring more violence, as fanatics on both sides attempt to sabotage the accord.

So why should Israel withdraw from any territory?

Ever since Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War, those territories have been a national headache. Israel could not annex the areas without giving 2 million Palestinians political rights, and the Palestinians refused to remain docile under Israeli rule. The violent clashes that resulted have cost hundreds of lives.

The Palestinians, for their part, have not won back any land through five Arab wars and three decades of popular resistance, guerrilla warfare and terrorism, so now they are trying diplomacy.

Who won the negotiations?

Israel still has the upper hand. But the Palestinians are getting more than they ever had before. Opponents on both sides say their representatives gave away too much. Negotiators on both sides said they got as much as they could. That's a pretty good definition of compromise.


Are the negotiations now over?

There are more talks to come. Talks on "permanent status" will start next May and are supposed to last a maximum of three years. They must deal with the most difficult issues, including the sovereignty of Jerusalem, the future of Jewish settlements, the future of nearly 2 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars, and Israel's and the Palestinians' permanent borders. Plus, various committees meeting since 1991 continue to negotiate such topics as water rights and economic arrangements.

Now, about the Palestinian elections scheduled for next year: What are they for?

They will select an 82-member council and a "raa'es," an Arabic ** term usually translated as "president" but which Israel will translate as "chairman." That probably will be Yasser Arafat. International observers will oversee the fairness of the election.

What could keep this latest agreement from working?

Terrorism by Jewish or Arab radicals, the fall of Mr. Rabin's government coalition and its replacement by a right-wing government, the death or fall from power of Mr. Arafat.


Will the agreement affect Israel's negotiations with other Arab states?

Somewhat. Israel now has made peace with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. The last "front-line" holdouts -- Syria and its satellite, Lebanon -- may feel more pressure to sign. Reports that Saudi Arabian and Moroccan officials may be at the signing are an indicator of possible thaws in Israeli-Arab relations.