September 25, 1995
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EDT (1915 GMT)
From Correspondent Walter Rodgers and wire reports
BIR ZEIT, West Bank (CNN) -- Despite skepticism among some Palestinians that anything will be accomplished with the new agreement with Israel, PLO leader Yasser Arafat said Monday the plan to widen self-rule in the West Bank would "no doubt" pave the way to a Palestinian state.
Arafat on Monday returned to Gaza, where the Palestinian self-rule authority is expected to approve the agreement, due to be signed at the White House on Thursday.
Earlier in the day Arafat was in Amman, where Jordanian leaders gave him their support. But the militant Islamic group Hamas rejected the accord as an attempt to "consecrate the Israeli occupation" of Palestinian land. Other radical Palestinian groups called it a capitulation that entrenches the presence of more than 100,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, captured by Israel in 1967. Syria, whose own peace talks with Israel are stalled, also condemned it. So have some Israelis, who fear the agreement threatens Israeli security.
Under the deal signed Sunday, Israel will begin phasing out its troops in the West Bank, except for parts of Hebron, over a six-month period. Palestinian elections will be held 22 days after the withdrawal is complete. The plan also calls for the gradual release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Among Palestinian students who six years ago fought the Intifada against Israeli soldiers, the peace agreement brought none of the rejoicing one might expect. "The prisoners are still in prison," said one student, "(Israel) said many times they are going to let them free but nothing happened." Nearly all the Palestinian students at Bir Zeit University have a friend or relative among the 5,300 prisoners still held by Israel.
Ultimately the peace agreement comes down to a matter of trust and there is little of that. "They did so much to us," said another student. "They killed fathers, brothers. Why trust them? Would you trust an enemy?" Palestinian human rights activist Hanan Ashrawi believes anyone who expects the deal to bring immediate peace is "sadly mistaken. ... People shake hands all the time. That does not mean they have resolved the issues." (77K AIFF sound or 77K WAV sound)
Despite the lack of trust, there is a glimmer of hope in the promise that Israeli military occupation will soon end in major Palestinian cities on the West Bank. "It depends if they comply completely with what they signed," said businessman Machmoud Hallf. "It might get better for us."
In West Bank hot spots like Hebron, a new generation of young Palestinians threw stones and bottles at Israeli soldiers Monday, disappointed the peace agreement did not provide for the eviction of 450 Israeli settlers who will still live among the city's 120,000 Palestinian Arabs. In all, 140,000 Israeli settlers live on the West Bank. Their future and the status of Jerusalem, claimed by both Israel and Palestinians, await negotiators in the third phase of peace talks next year.
In some respects this is a very odd peace agreement. Israelis and Palestinians are both going to Washington reluctantly for Thursday's signing. It is almost as if they are going merely to accomdodate President Clinton's photo opportunity. "The signing on the White House lawn is another spectacle," Ashrawi said, "and spectacles have a way of superceding reality."
Like his Israeli counterparts, Arafat must now convince Palestinians this is a good agreement. For both sides, after so many years of war, peace is proving a hard sell.
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