March 29, 1996 in Nation/World

Israel Agrees To Plan To Ease Restrictions On Palestinians Imports, Exports To Resume; Emergency Meeting Planned

Barry Schweid Associated Press
 

An emergency plan to ease Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza was adopted Thursday and announced by the Clinton administration.

Israel will permit construction material and Egyptian trucks to pass through checkpoints so that people in hard-pressed Gaza can get back to work. Citrus and other exports from the territories will be shipped to the outside world from Israel and Jordan.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced the plan at the opening of a two-day conference of 27 nations called to provide protection for Israel against terrorism.

The plan, which also includes an emergency meeting of donor nations to be called in the next few days, responds to parallel pleas from European allies and the Palestinian Authority to consider the impact of the security measures taken by Israel after a series of deadly suicide bombings.

Christopher telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to obtain their approval before making the announcement.

He also called Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway to request the emergency meeting. Having played a pivotal role in arranging the 1993 mutual recognition of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Norway heads a group that coordinates economic assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.

Saeb Erakat, a senior Palestinian official, called on the conference participants to provide $100 million to compensate Palestinian workers and “to help them avoid starvation.”

“The situation does not allow us to wait if we want to avoid a major explosion,” he said in a statement to the conference. The peace process has come to a halt, and war is being waged against Arafat and the Palestinian people, Erakat said.

Referring to the campaign against terrorism, which had been billed as the main topic of the conference at the State Department, Christopher said: “We must restore an environment in which negotiations can again move forward and agreement can be reached.”

“The merchants of terror” must be defeated, but also “we must find ways to support the Palestinian people as they, too, suffer the consequences of the Hamas bombings,” he said.

Peres had responded to the spate of terrorism by blocking entry to Israel of most Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. All four suicide bombers, who killed 58 people and wounded dozens of others, had slipped through, raising questions in Israel about Peres’ willingness to depend on Arafat’s Palestinian Authority to stem terrorism.

Seeking election in May, Peres also cracked down by blowing up the homes of the families of suspected or convicted Palestinian terrorists and authorizing hundreds of arrests, including many Palestinians who had been released from prison by the Israeli government.

Arafat’s Palestinian Authority claimed the Israeli measures had thrown 60,000 people out of work and were costing the territories $6 million a day in lost wages and trade.

The Clinton administration initially held firm in supporting Israel and insisting the emphasis should be on curbing terrorism. But Europeans echoed the Arabs’ anger, and the thrust of the conference shifted dramatically.

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