Security Deal a Test of Palestinian Will to Halt Terror

August 20, 2002

It would be foolish to count too much on it, but a glimmer of hope is winking in the gloom of the Mideast. Intense negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli security officials have resulted in an agreement that may be a sign of genuine progress - the first in months - if it holds.

The head of Palestinian security yesterday assumed responsibility for reducing violence in Gaza and Bethlehem, areas from which Israeli troops are to withdraw under the deal; they began pulling out of Bethlehem late yesterday.

The implementation of the agreement will be a test of the Palestinian Authority's ability and willingness to crack down on terror groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Hamas already has vowed to disregard the agreement and continue attacks against Israelis. If such attacks do continue, it will become quickly apparent to Israeli security officials whether the Palestinian Authority is doing all it can to prevent them, thus living up to its end of the bargain.

What's notable about the deal, reached by Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, is that it came with no help and no direct pressure from the United States, the European Union or Arab states. It resulted from the first direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis - without foreign intermediaries or referees - since the September 2000 start of the Al-Aqsa intifada. Ultimately, it will be better for Israel and the Palestinians to cobble together working arrangements to ease tensions on their own, because they will have to live with them.

Israel chose Gaza and Bethlehem as locales for withdrawal in part because it believes that Palestinian security forces are concentrated in those areas and are better prepared to keep order there. While Israeli troops prepare to pull out, Yehiyeh said that local Palestinian commanders would meet over two days to coordinate implementation of the agreement. If all goes well, within another week another high-level Palestinian-Israeli meeting would be held to settle on further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. But all that hinges on the Palestinians' ability to rein in terrorists - and that remains to be seen.

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