September 24, 1995
Web posted at: 12:15 p.m. EDT (1615 GMT)
TABA, Egypt (CNN) -- After tedious talks and some high drama, Israel and the PLO have reached a long-awaited agreement on expanding Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.
"What we were doing through the days and weeks and today is not a normal political and economic enterprise, it is history in the real sense of the word," said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres before the massive 400-page document was initialed. (1,309K QuickTime movie)
He said tough discussions led to the historic moment. (77K AIFF sound or 77K WAV sound) "We went through seven days and seven nights that were crowning a year and half of negotiations," Peres said. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound) "I think both parties knew perfectly well that we had to do an impossible chore, to overcome objective contradictions, to handle a great deal of woes and suspicions, to save the lives of people on both sides, and offer a credible future for their new generation." (289K AIFF sound or 289K WAV sound)
As late as Sunday, it appeared the accord might never see the light of day. After talks lasting into the early morning hours, PLO chief Yasser Arafat stormed out in a dispute over security arrangements for the city of Hebron.
Hebron has long proved a stumbling block for agreement. Under the original peace agreement, it was listed as one of the towns from which Israeli Defense Forces would redeploy. But because approximately 400 Jewish citizens reside amidst 100,000 settlers there, Israel has been hesitant to remove its forces.
During a debate over proposed restrictions on the authority of Palestinian police and geographical boundaries around Hebron, Arafat and Peres reportedly shouted at one another. The PLO leader then left the meeting, shouting, "We are not your slaves!"
With some persuasion from the Egyptian president and U.S. Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross, Arafat returned a few hours later and talks resumed.
By the time of the ceremony, the PLO leader appeared in good spirits, smiling and lifting the thick peace document to show its bulk. (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound) In his remarks, which began the proceedings, Arafat thanked the negotiators, as well as Egyptian and American officials.
Although Arafat seemed pleased with the agreement, he stressed it would be successful only if it has "good will behind it" and if it's enforced "in a sincere way, with a positive direction toward peace." Arafat then extended a message to the 5,300 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and assured them of their imminent release -- another issue that has stalled the negotiation process.
"On this occasion, from this place, I would like to speak to our prisoners, to those who are injured" he said. "And I assure them that the dawn of freedom is coming."
He extended his greeting of good will to Israeli citizens, congratulating them on Sunday's beginning of the Jewish new year. "This will be a real year of peace between the people of the area for the future of our children and their children," he said.
Arafat noted that the agreement opens the way to a future in which Palestinians will have a nation of their own. He described it as "the beginning of a new period in which the Palestinian people will be sovereign on their country, and so they can ... play their natural role with all the other nations of the area."
Speaking from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, U.S. President Clinton congratulated the negotiators and their leaders on behalf of the American people, calling the agreement "a big step on the road to a just and lasting peace in the Mideast." (213K AIFF sound or 213K WAV sound) He confirmed that an official signing ceremony will take place in Washington on Thursday. (102K AIFF sound or 102K WAV sound)
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