September 27, 1995
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT)
From Correspondent Walt Rodgers
GAZA CITY, Gaza (CNN) -- There was much self-congratulation among Yasser Arafat's ministers as they approved their second peace agreement with Israel.
The Israeli cabinet votes Wednesday. But as these Palestinians prepared for their first democratic elections, they were certain of the historical import of what happened.
"It's not a secret that our goal is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state," said Palestinian authority Saeb Erakat.
Even as the parties prepare to sign a peace agreement at the White House Thursday, Israel has yet to disclose its timetable for troop withdrawals from West Bank Palestinian cities.
It has not scheduled the release of more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It has not established what boundaries the autonomous city of Jericho will have after the next Israeli troop pullback there. These issues may be negotiated right up to the signing ceremony itself.
"This is a problem that is hanging on," said Erakat. "It's really very serious."
Still, in towns like Jericho which have had self-government for a year-and-a-half, we found more enthusiasm for this peace agreement than in other West Bank cities still awaiting an Israeli military pullout.
"I like the agreement they signed in Taba two days ago," said one Palestinian. "It is better than nothing."
Early next year these Palestinians will get their first taste of participatory Democracy. Elections are scheduled exactly 22 days after all Israeli troops leave.
It is perhaps an understatement to suggest Palestinian elections will be a test of the democratic process. This society has little experience with self-government. And one can almost predict with certainty the outcome of the presidential election.
"Arafat. Very good, OK," said one Palestinian.
"He is the leader of Palestinian people. Of course, our leader Yasser Arafat," said another.
Even as officials were rejoicing over the prospect of a Palestinian State, and the promise of free elections, there were more clashes in Nablus, where young Palestinians walk the streets with guns. The confrontations suggest it will take a gigantic effort by Palestinian authorities to establish a civil society after Israeli troops leave.
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