On the 20th anniversary of the last all-out war between Arabs and Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat announced Wednesday that formal talks to launch the first Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands will begin next Wednesday in Egypt.
Two of the oldest foes of the conflict, holding their first direct talks since the signing of an interim peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis last month, met amid festivities in Egypt commemorating the 1973 war and the Oct. 6, 1981, assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who signed a historic peace treaty with Israel.
"The October war has made it clear to all parties that force has its limits and that security cannot be achieved by violating other people's rights," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in a televised address to the nation on the eve of the talks.
Rabin and Arafat spoke separately with reporters after Israeli and Palestinian delegations met and agreed on details to convene the upcoming talks. They said the first session since the signing of the interim peace agreement in Washington was designed to make the much-heralded peace accord begin to bear fruit.
"I suggested this meeting with one purpose in mind: to start to implement the agreements that were signed in Washington" on Sept. 13, Rabin said. "We are committed to whatever we signed, but it's not enough to sign. You have to translate it through negotiations into reality."
Arafat said that, as a result of agreement on the framework of the upcoming negotiations, he expects to be in Jericho by early next year. "I hope to see you very soon there," he said.
A negotiating session of seven Israelis and six Palestinians, headed by Rabin and Arafat, met for several hours behind closed doors in one of Cairo's ornate presidential palaces and agreed on the following points for the upcoming negotiations:
* An oversight liaison committee of Palestinians and Israelis, headed by a Cabinet minister from Israel and the equivalent of a minister from the PLO, will begin meeting next Wednesday in Cairo to oversee the upcoming peace negotiations.
* On the same day, a joint committee will begin meeting in the Sinai Peninsula community of Taba to work out details of the interim peace plan, which calls for early Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank town of Jericho and the Gaza Strip. Taba was the last territory returned to Egypt by Israel as a result of the 1979 Camp David accords. The committee will look at matters of redeployment, security and economic issues, among others.
* The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that have been ongoing in Washington since the Madrid peace conference began nearly two years ago will continue. But they will focus on interim self-government for the rest of the occupied West Bank. The talks will also examine the structure of a new Palestinian governing council and how elections to the council will be conducted.
* A committee on economic issues in the territories will be established, its precise composition to be determined by the liaison committee when it begins meeting in Cairo.
* Though Rabin did not mention it, Arafat said he had appointed Faisal Husseini, head of the Washington delegation, to conduct talks with an Israeli yet to be designated on the future of Jerusalem.
Rabin is said to have requested Wednesday's working session because of fears that Palestinians were lagging behind in moves to appoint negotiators and develop an agenda for the upcoming talks.
Indeed, the Palestinian leadership in the Tunisian capital of Tunis has been split over the idea of an interim self-government plan, with Arafat inclined to assert a heavily PLO-dominated interim government in Gaza and Jericho, while other PLO leaders believe it might be more expedient to encourage the development of a grass-roots interim authority in the occupied territories.
Arafat said he also extracted a promise from Rabin that Palestinian prisoners would not be moved from their present locations until the issue of detainees is discussed during formal negotiations.
Wednesday's talks convened amid a backdrop of worsening violence in the occupied territories, where there have been three suicide attacks in the past three weeks, including a car bomber earlier this week who attacked an Israeli bus, wounding 30 Israelis.
Israelis have complained about the violence against them; the PLO has complained about a coinciding roundup of Palestinian activists in the occupied territories.