Arafat Tells Christopher His Woes, Asks Intervention : Diplomacy: PLO chairman cites fears that Israel will rethink Arab self-government promises.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, beset by growing criticism within his own organization and fearful that Israel may snatch away the promise of West Bank and Gaza self-government, poured out his troubles to Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Monday and appealed to the United States to intervene in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Arafat urged Christopher to mediate personally in the talks on conditions for Palestinian self-rule. Under the timetable set in the peace accord signed in September, self-rule is supposed to begin next Monday with the start of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
Christopher promised to convey Arafat’s concerns to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a meeting today in Jerusalem. But he said he has no intention of injecting the United States directly into the negotiations, which appear to be moving so slowly that the Monday deadline is in serious jeopardy.
While Christopher turned aside Arafat’s primary request, he promised “non-lethal” aid, such as Army surplus jeeps and trucks, to help equip the Palestinian police force scheduled to replace the Israeli army when it begins to pull out of the occupied territories. It is the first time Washington has offered paramilitary equipment to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Meanwhile, the United States has decided to relax sanctions against Syria to allow the transfer of three American-made commercial aircraft to Syria from Kuwait, the New York Times reported in today’s editions.
Christopher formally informed Syrian President Hafez Assad of the decision in a meeting in Damascus on Sunday, said the story, which quoted unidentified senior Clinton Administration officials. The sanctions were originally imposed to punish Syria for what Washington regarded as its support for terrorism.
Christopher and Arafat met for two hours over coffee and homemade chocolate-chip cookies in the ambassador’s residence of the fortress-like U.S. Embassy compound that just opened in an affluent suburb of the capital of Jordan. According to a U.S. official who participated in the talks, Arafat “outlined the difficulties he sees himself facing and the pressures he has come under.”
The official said Arafat argued that if the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho begins on time, it will boost his prestige and alleviate much of the pressure.
The peace accords signed Sept. 13 in Washington called for the Israeli army to begin withdrawing its troops three months after the signing and to complete the redeployment within six months. But with the first deadline just a week away, Israeli officials have said the Dec. 13 date is not sacred and they will not rush the negotiations.
According to the Jordan Times newspaper, Arafat aides said Sunday that a delay of up to two weeks would be acceptable. But in his joint press conference with Christopher on Monday, Arafat would say only that he hoped Palestinian autonomy will begin “on the agreed date.”
Dressed in his trademark green fatigues and black-and-white head scarf and wearing a brown field jacket over his shoulders to ward off the evening chill, Arafat told reporters: “I assured the secretary . . . that we are committed fully to follow the path of peace.”
He bridled at reporters’ questions implying that the PLO is in disarray or that the organization will find it difficult to establish an effective government.
Asked about reports that he had to relinquish some of his authority to quell a revolt among several of his closest aides, Arafat said only, “I’m not in a position to speak about your rumors.”
As for the problems the organization may face in governing, he said: “We the Palestinians have participated in building many Arab countries. Kuwait is an example. Our security forces have already started to train. . . . We will be able to move directly to take over the government as soon as possible, hopefully on the 13th of December.”
But in his private talks with Christopher, U.S. officials said, both issues were clearly on Arafat’s mind. The American side told Arafat that the PLO must demonstrate its capacity to spend money wisely if it wants to begin getting promised international aid.
Despite the tough bargaining over autonomy conditions, Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres plan to share the limelight Thursday at a UNESCO-sponsored conference in Granada, Spain, on the Arab-Israeli peace process. Arafat and Peres plan private talks after jointly receiving the key to the city.