Israeli-Palestinian Pact 'Step by Step' Deal To Build Confidence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Despite warnings of terror attacks and mega-attacks, Israeli troops were poised to withdraw from Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip on Monday following an overnight deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both sides seemed suspicious of the other side's intentions on Monday in this first security agreement since Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat reshuffled his cabinet two months ago and appointed a new Interior Minister, Abdel Razak Yahya, who is responsible for security reforms strongly recommended by President Bush.

The two sides have agreed to numerous security pacts during the last 23 months but none of them has ever taken hold.

According to the plan - called "Gaza First," by Israel, "Bethlehem First" by the Palestinians, and "Gaza-Bethlehem First" in the media - the Palestinians agreed to take responsibility to calm the security situation, quell violence and stop terror attacks.

In exchange, Israel agreed to ease restrictions on the civilian population and facilitate humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

There had been no movement on the ground on Monday, according to an army spokesman. But Palestinian sources were quoted as saying the Israel was planning to withdraw from Bethlehem on Monday evening.

Arafat advisor, Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the first step forward was when Israel agreed at the Sunday meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Yahya to withdraw from the West Bank city of Bethlehem instead of just Gaza city.

"It will be followed by Hebron [and] gradually other West Bank cities," Abu Rudeineh said. "The test is whether it will be implemented [by the Israelis]," he said.

Israel invaded seven out of eight PA controlled cities and clamped strict curfews on them in June, following back-to-back suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem, which left scores dead and wounded.

Since then, Israel has detained hundreds of suspected Palestinian terrorists and discovered and destroyed numerous bomb making laboratories as part of its efforts to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.

Abu Rudeineh said the two sides would "work together" to bring about calm.

"The PA has taken a political decision," he said. "We are committed to it." Nevertheless, Abu Rudeineh would not commit the PA to stopping terror attacks, saying that they would expend 100 percent effort to do so but could not guarantee the results.

"It's about effort and cooperation," he said, adding that Israel had to stop invading Palestinian cities, assassinating militants in targeted killings and remove its siege of Palestinian cities.

"We have to wait and see. It's a test for the Israelis [whether or not] they have made the political decision to cooperate with the PA," he said, and give the PA space to rebuild itself.

Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, who said he didn't have "confidence in anything" described the agreement as "confidence building measures, step by step without a stopwatch."

Israel did not dictate to the PA timetables, the scope, the pace or the means by which the Palestinians should bring about calm, but the more there is quiet and a drop in terrorist activities, the more Israel will ease restrictions, Gissin said.

"If we seen in a given area that there is a slight movement [toward calm], we will reciprocate," he said. Nevertheless, Gissin said, Israel would continue its battle against terrorism.

"We still have alerts of pending attacks," Gissin said. "Our continuous fight against terrorism is not going to end... We still have Hamas and other organizations that are continuing their struggle to 'liberate Palestine.'"

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for numerous deadly suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, both rejected the Israeli-Palestinian agreement and vowed to continue to attack Israel.

Islamic Jihad reportedly issued a statement on Monday in which it vowed to step up attacks in order to "torpedo" the Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Ben Eliezer told the Israeli cabinet on Sunday that there had been a discernable drop in the scope of actual terror attacks, but there was no decline in the "scope and level" of warnings of intentions of terrorist organizations to perpetrate new attacks both within Israel and the disputed territories.

He attributed the drop in attacks to the Israeli army and security services counter-terrorism efforts, a cabinet communiqu\'e9 said.

Ben-Eliezer met earlier with Catherine Bertini, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's envoy. At a joint press conference, Ben-Eliezer said that the "main idea" behind the new plan was to reach a ceasefire and for all the violence to stop.

"This will allow [us], first of all, from a humanitarian aspect by expanding the inventory of civilian aid and enabling the Palestinians to reach the decisive stage of reform and reorganization so we can enter into a dialogue down the line," he said.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.