Facebook Twitter



This week marked the first anniversary of the historic peace pact, known as the "Declaration of Principles," signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It gave Palestinians the beginnings of a homeland - what they hope will eventually become a state - and Israelis the opportunity to end their state of belligerence with the Arabs.So what has been accomplished in a year?

Most deadlines have been missed. It took six months to agree on just three access roads for Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip; eight months for self-rule to actually begin in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho; 10 months for PLO chief Yasser Arafat to return from exile and take up residence there.

Elections to a Palestinian Legislative Council, originally set for July 13, still have not been held. They are now supposed to take place in October, but may occur as late as December.

Meanwhile, many Palestinians openly grumble about Arafat's autocratic ways and wonder if he even wants an election.

What Israel calls "early empowerment" - giving the Palestinians control over five spheres of civilian government in the rest of the West Bank - also has been delayed. So far, only education has been turned over; the Palestinians are still waiting for health, taxation, tourism and social welfare.

The Israelis say they will not extend self-rule to the whole of the West Bank until the PLO curbs Islamic militants bent on derailing the accord.

Palestinian police are, in fact, arresting members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but they have not been able to prevent terrorist attacks on Israelis - just as Israel is having a hard time restraining its Jewish militants.

Yet, despite the security problems, the tortuous pace of negotiations and the lack of progress in resolving some disputes, such as water-sharing, the Israel-PLO accord has held.

That in itself is a major achievement, given the mutual suspicion on both sides.

Internationally, the benefits have been more tangible for Israel than for the Palestinians.

Long treated as a pariah, Israel now is recognized by 146 of the 185 member states of the United Nations, including the Vatican. Thirty countries established diplomatic relations with Israel after the Madrid peace talks of October 1991 and 18 more did so after the Declaration of Principles was signed Sept. 13, 1993.

Israel's biggest breakthrough at the regional level was ending the formal state of war that existed with Jordan. The agreement, signed July 25 at the White House, capped a perceptible thaw in Israel's "cold peace" with Egypt. But negotiations with Syria remain stalled over the terms of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Even so, the Arab economic boycott of Israel is virtually extinct. Besides doing business with Egypt and Jordan, Israeli firms are negotiating tourism, trade and investment contracts with Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Dubai, Oman and Qatar.

In contrast, the Arab states that once championed the Palestinian cause have contributed very little of the $2.4 billion in foreign aid pledged to the PLO by the international community.

And only Germany has opened a representative office in the self-rule area - others are waiting to see how well the PLO governs before they commit themselves.

Life for the average Palestinian has seen little improvement so far, particularly in Gaza. The Strip remains a teeming slum, crammed with 800,000 people and mountains of garbage. There is 50 percent unemployment, no infrastructure to speak of and a severe shortage of potable water.

The West Bank is 16 times larger, home to 1.7 million Palestinians, and much more capable of being self-sustaining. But that region poses another problem: If it took six months to haggle over the security of 4,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza, how long will it take to ensure the safety of 120,000 Israelis in 144 West Bank settlements, some inside Arab cities?