While Israelis and Palestinians struggled to wrap up the final details of their precedent-shattering peace agreement Wednesday, the Clinton Administration turned to the task of pressuring the world’s wealthy nations to contribute the billions of dollars needed to establish Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A senior State Department official said the United States is prepared to put up some money to subsidize Palestinian police, schools and other governmental agencies. But Washington can no longer afford to pay the entire cost, as it did a decade ago when Israel and Egypt signed the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty.
For the rest of the needed money, the official said, Secretary of State Warren Christopher is contacting oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf and major industrial nations, such as the six countries that participate with the United States in the annual economic summit.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III collected much of the cost of U.S. military operations in the war against Iraq from many of those same allied countries--Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. Asked if Christopher plans to break out Baker’s “tin cup,” the official said: “We already are doing that.”
The official said no decision has been made about the size of the fund. But Middle East specialists estimate that it will cost about $1 billion up front for capital expenses and about $250 million annually to support government operations.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, which is expected to control the West Bank and Gaza governmental institutions, is nearly bankrupt because Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other rich patrons cut off their support after the organization sided with Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The official said the Administration realizes that when it sends an appropriations request to Capitol Hill, “Congress will come back to us and say, ‘We’ll consider it,’ but they will ask what other governments are willing to do.”
Elsewhere in Washington, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations to the peace talks bided their time while higher-ranking Israeli and PLO officials bargained over conditions for mutual recognition. Talks in Oslo, Norway, ended Wednesday, and sources on both sides said that agreement is expected within the next few days.
The breakthrough in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is expected to bring rapid progress in Jerusalem’s talks with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres noted that Israel and Jordan had agreed more than four months ago on a negotiating agenda that, in fact, is the outline of a future peace treaty and that there are no outstanding issues.
“This depends totally on Jordan,” Peres said when asked about comments by Jordanian officials in Amman that this “declaration of principles” was ready for signing.
“We agreed on an agenda for peace a long time ago, and we are now down to discussing trifles--whether mosquitoes need visas to go from Eilat to Aqaba. Jordan can sign tomorrow morning.”
Israeli officials believe, however, that Jordan will likely be the last of the four Arab parties in the Washington talks to sign a full treaty. “With us, they can afford to wait,” a senior official in Jerusalem said, “but with the other Arabs they cannot afford to get ahead and give offense.”
King Hussein, moreover, is clearly annoyed that the PLO and Israel moved so far and so secretly, although he has long had his own secret channels with Israel. Jordanian officials have also expressed concern about the political implications of a Palestinian government on the West Bank and Gaza Strip for their country, which is about 60% Palestinian.
Peres said his government will issue a statement recognizing the PLO as a legitimate political movement once the organization meets a series of Israeli conditions committing the Palestinians to peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state.
Israel wants the PLO to remove from its charter calls for the destruction of Israel that permeate the document, to acknowledge Israel’s existence and legitimacy, to renounce terrorism and to commit itself to the political resolution of disputes. It also wants the PLO to accept again two basic U.N. Security Council resolutions as the basis for settling the Middle East conflict.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who returned to Tunis, Tunisia, on Wednesday after a tour of a number of Arab capitals, may try to push such a declaration through at a meeting of the PLO central committee called for today.
Israeli officials said that Palestinian negotiators encountered objections from PLO factions to some of the wording. They said that Arafat was working to find a compromise that would keep his coalition together.
The Israeli Cabinet on Monday approved an agreement, hammered out during months of secret negotiations in Oslo, establishing conditions for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, starting with Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho.
Israel and the PLO have not yet agreed on who will sign the historic pact. The Palestinians want a senior PLO official to sign for their side, but Israel is reluctant to give the organization that much visibility.
Hakam Balawi, the PLO ambassador to Tunisia and an Arafat confidant, told Israel Army Radio on Wednesday that, if Israel and the PLO agreed on mutual recognition, the pact would be signed by Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But Israeli sources in Washington predicted that the signing would be at a lower level.
In Jerusalem, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amir Moussa brought a long and detailed message from Arafat to Rabin covering proposals for mutual recognition. Moussa also delivered a message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak describing reaction in the Arab world to the Israel-PLO accords.
“The question of Israeli recognition of the PLO is on the table now,” Moussa commented after a meeting with Rabin. “What kind of commitments each partner will give is the matter of negotiations between the two parties, and that is being undertaken now.”
Negotiations continued on the other tracks of the intricately balanced peace talks, in which Israel bargains separately with Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinians. But in the wake of the secret Oslo talks between Israel and the PLO, rumors of other “back channel” contacts abounded. There were reports--vehemently denied by both Israel and Syria--that Israel, Syria and Lebanon had opened secret talks in Madrid.
“I suppose that, given the events of the past week, any denial of any secret channels might be taken with some skepticism,” said Israeli Ambassador Itamar Rabinovitch in Washington. “But emphatically . . . I can deny that there are parallel channels in which Syria and Israel are discussing any of their mutual concerns.”
Kempster reported from Washington and Parks from Jerusalem.