Israelis, Palestinians OK Gaza Deal (AP) By RAVI NESSMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 11/15/05 11:00 PM)
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JERUSALEM -- Israel and the Palestinians, under strong U.S. pressure,
reached an agreement Tuesday to open Gaza´s borders starting Nov. 25,
a step vital to turning the economically crippled territory into a
success in the wake of Israel´s withdrawal.
The deal, struck during a marathon negotiating session run by
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, gives Palestinians control over
a border for the first time, allowing them to travel freely into
Egypt and to export their goods. Israel will be able to see who comes
and goes, with the help of European monitors, but Palestinians will
retain final authority.
"This agreement is intended to give Palestinian people the freedom to
move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," Rice said.
The deal provides a much-needed boost to Gaza´s economy and
strengthens Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ahead of Jan. 25
parliament elections. Gaza is seen as a test for how the Palestinians
would handle an independent state.
Violence could still derail the deal, as it has countless other
agreements between the two sides. But officials were upbeat, with
Rice lauding it as a "big step forward" in Israeli-Palestinian
relations badly damaged by five years of bloody fighting.
Negotiators immediately began preparing for the gritty work of
sorting out the details of the border agreement, which will also
release tens of millions of dollars in international aid for
The deal marked the most intensive U.S. involvement in the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict in years, and there were hopes that its success
would encourage Rice to become more personally involved in the future.
Israel and the Palestinians were deadlocked after five months of
talks when Rice decided Monday to postpone her trip to Asia to
personally mediate in her Jerusalem hotel suite.
Getting only two hours sleep, Rice huddled alternately with Israeli
and Palestinian negotiators; at one point a laptop was passed around,
with each side typing proposed changes. The agreement was finally
reached at 10:05 a.m. Tuesday.
"What the Bush administration should learn from this ... is that in
order to move the Israelis and Palestinians into an agreement on
something, you need the big guns from the administration, the ones
who can speak for the president, to twist arms," said Israeli
political analyst Yossi Alpher. "I would hope that Rice would get an
appetite for this and want to come back."
The deal allayed Palestinian fears that Gaza would become sealed off
as a virtual prison following Israel´s withdrawal from the territory
in September after 38 years of occupation.
"I think that the agreement will satisfy the majority of the
Palestinian people," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Mohammed
Dahlan. "At least for now, travelers are not going to see any more
Israelis. No Israeli is going to control their lives."
Under the agreement, the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border
would tentatively open Nov. 25 under the supervision of European
Israel had originally demanded veto power over the crossing. In the
deal, Israel will receive live transmissions via closed-circuit TV
from the crossing, and can raise objections concerning travelers, but
the Palestinians will have the final say.
"I think we reached an arrangement where there is a proper balance
between our security needs and the Palestinians´ economic needs,"
said Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who led the Israeli
The agreement set important precedents, with Israel allowing
Palestinians to take control of a border for the first time and
agreeing to rely on a third party to provide security monitoring.
The deal also commits Israel to allow at least 150 daily truckloads
of cargo to be exported from Gaza into Israel by year´s end and 400
truckloads a day by the end of 2006. Only a few truckloads now make
it through the border.
Palestinians will be able to travel across Israel between the West
Bank and Gaza in bus convoys _ presumably escorted by Israeli troops
_ starting Dec. 15.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet with international
mediator James Wolfensohn on Wednesday to deal with the logistics
involved in the agreement _ including setting up a liaison center,
creating procedures for inspecting vehicles and training customs
officials _ with the help of the United States and the World Bank.
Disputes could crop up in those talks as well, but Rice said she
would remain involved and wanted progress reports every two weeks.
International officials hope the agreement will allow them to begin
working on donor-funded projects intended to provide immediate
benefits to Gaza, including a Japanese plan to repair Gaza´s main
road, a U.S. water pipeline project and a World Bank sanitation
Soon after the announcement, the Rafah crossing was temporarily
opened under a prearranged agreement, to allow patients, students and
some other Palestinians who were in Egypt to return home.
Palestinian border officials, watched by four European monitors,
searched the travelers´ luggage by hand and ran it through security
scanners. Those found smuggling in cigarettes either had them
confiscated or were forced to pay customs duties.
Those crossing at Rafah welcomed the deal, but remained skeptical it
would be implemented.
"If it is implemented fully, life will be revived and people will
feel a real change," said Samir Khadri, a 42-year-old businessman
returning to Gaza from China. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press.
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