Israel is preparing to withdraw from most of the major cities in the West Bank after nearly three decades of a tormented military occupation that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday night they would sign an agreement on the withdrawal July 25. Peres later said the Israeli troop withdrawal would come before the end of the year to allow Palestinian elections in 1995.
Not all the details have been worked out, and the two sides have consistently missed deadlines in the past. But Peres portrayed Tuesday’s meeting with Arafat as virtually conclusive.
“We have agreed on most points, not all. Some of the agreements are oral, some in writing,” he said. “The problem was that putting everything down in writing would have required many more days and nights.”
Public statements by Israel and the Palestinians have made clear they are in agreement on the overall principle of an Israeli withdrawal from six of the main West Bank cities. Israel promised to “redeploy” from Palestinian “populated areas” in its 1993 peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Israeli pullback would virtually double the population under the Palestinian Authority, which came into existence in May 1944 with Palestinian takeover of the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
Details remain unclear on an exact date for the redeployment of Israeli troops, on whether the Israeli Army still will patrol Palestinian villages, and who will control the roads in the West Bank.
But a withdrawal would mark a historical turn for Israel, which captured the West Bank from Jordan in a triumphal military sweep in the 1967 war but has been anguished ever since over what to do with it.
For most of a 15-year reign until 1992, a succession of right-wing Israeli governments saw the West Bank as Israel’s biblical inheritance, and an overriding goal was to retain control. But the refusal of the Palestinian population - which grew to 40 percent the size of Israel’s population - to accept the Israeli claim eventually brought a change in Israel’s government. The Labor-led government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin negotiated a peace plan with the Palestinians.
The redeployment would begin with Israeli troops withdrawing from Jenin, Tulkaram, Qalqilya and Nablus, Peres told members of his Labor Party this week. Troops would leave Bethlehem and Ramallah when construction of new roads is finished, roads that would allow Jewish settlers to bypass the towns.