By Dr. Aaron Lerner

(This is the unedited version of an Op-Ed scheduled to appear in The Jerusalem Post on October 26)

When Prime Minister Netanyahu presented the Hebron Agreement almost two years ago, he justified his concessions by stressing the Ross Note which came with the deal, arguing that for the first time Palestinian obligations were firmly set within the context of reciprocity. Arafat failed to honor his part of the deal after Israel pulled out of most of Hebron and Netanyahu, under the principle of reciprocity, eventually decided to stop carrying out further withdrawals.

What's new in The Wye River Memorandum (WRM) is that Netanyahu has forfeited Israel's right to independently determine that the Palestinians aren't keeping their end of the bargain. The deal includes several other major concessions regarding, among other things, the third Further Redeployment (FRD) and the amending of the Palestinian Charter.

Until now, the third FRD was supposed to be determined by Israel. Now Israel has conceded that a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will "address this question" with the US "briefed regularly" (WRM Paragraph I.B.)

Until now, Israel insisted that the Palestinian National Congress (PNC) have a formal meeting and vote by a two thirds majority to amend the Charter - as required by the Charter itself. Instead Netanyahu has agreed to a meeting of "the members of the PNC, as well as the members of the Central Council, the Council, and the Palestinian Heads of Ministries (WRM Paragraph II.C.2.)". While the membership certainly overlaps, the point remains that the meeting is deliberately NOT defined as a meeting of the PNC. The meeting is not going to approve an amended Charter but rather to "reaffirm their support" for the Arafat-Clinton letter which lists sections of the Charter which will be either amended or deleted in the future.

The puzzle to me is why Netanyahu is turning a significant Israeli concession - dropping the demand that the Charter actually be amended - into a joint Palestinian-American concession with an expensive ceremony attended by Clinton himself.

If the purpose of the undertaking was, as Minister Sharansky put it, to have the cancellation of the Charter become common knowledge, Netanyahu would have been better off dropping the demand in return for a Palestinian PR campaign in the autonomy announcing the cancellation. The Palestinians would have "owed" Israel for the deal. The meaningless session in Gaza is a debit on the Israeli side of the ledger.

This is bad enough. Even if Israel could miraculously, overnight, build the bypass roads and other infrastructure required to insure security after the FRD (sources tell me construction will take many months) there is a fundamental flaw with the deal: Netanyahu has agreed to make the Clinton Administration both cop and judge. Israel won't even see the PA's plan to combat terror (WRM paragraph II.A.(1)b.) and it is up to the US to monitor implementation of the plan (WRM paragraph II.A.(1)c.).

For the past five years the American authorities have been blind to Palestinian violations. And for most of the time they had a reason since flagging Palestinian noncompliance would mean a cut off of American financial assistance to the PA. There is no reason to expect this situation to change, what with further Israeli withdrawals in the balance.

News reports claim that the PA will reduce its force from 40,000 to 20,000 but there are no numbers in the deal. In fact, the WRM does not say that there is any problem now with the size of the PA security forces, only that "The Palestinian side will provide a list of its policemen to the Israeli side in conformity with the prior agreements."(WRM Paragraph II.C.(1)a.).

The same goes for illegal weapons with the only mention of PA arms in Secretary of State Albright's side letter which says that American "assistance to the Palestinian side will help ensure that any retention of weapons is consistent" with the list of weapons in the Interim Agreement.

It is important to note that this deal requires a major change in the CIA's role. Until now, when direct communications between Israel and the PA broke down, the CIA served to insure that the PA followed through on Israeli intelligence leads and picked up specific suspects at specified locations. What we are talking about now is an inspection role more akin to the botch job being done in Iraq - a failure not because the inspection team can't do the job but because of the desire of the Clinton Administration to avoid discovering Iraqi violations.

It could have and should have been different. Netanyahu should have insisted that before the Wye negotiations, that the CIA and PA take a "starting inventory" of PA forces and weapons which would serve as a basis for corrective measures in the very first week of the FRD - before Israeli forces even start to roll back. This would have put the onus on the PA and America. If the CIA numbers presented at Wye were close to Israeli intelligence estimates there would at least be some hope that they took their observer role seriously and negotiations could continue.

But Netanyahu didn't do that. Instead he has placed compliance monitoring in the hands of an administration which has shown time and again that it has more important concerns - like continued Israeli withdrawals - than Palestinian compliance.

Two weeks into the FRD, the PA's Area A will more than triple in size from 3% to 10.1%. And in return for this the only solid Palestinian action will be a meaningless vote by the PLO Executive Committee reaffirming Arafat's letter to Clinton. Everything else will be subject to American interpretation.

Such incompetence could at least have been understood if we were back in 1993, before the Clinton team put on its blinders. But today, after the prime minister's own office has issued reams of reports proving time and again the Clinton team's "hear no evil see no evil" approach towards Arafat , such a concession is inexcusable.

While the Ross Note (Hebron 1997) stated that "4. Exercise of Palestinian governmental activity, and location of Palestinian governmental offices, will be as specified in the Interim Agreement." there is no mention of such restriction in The Wye River Memorandum.

Simply stated, according to the agreement which Netanyahu signed last week, the PA police can take over Jerusalem (or for that matter Jaffa) and Israel would still be required to continue making withdrawals.


Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
POB 982 Kfar Sava
Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-9-7411645

[October 25, 1998]

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