The Wye River Memorandum: Wye Deadline Passes
The Wye River Memorandum, signed in Washington on October 23, 1998, sets out a series of specific obligations of the Israeli and Palestinian sides to be implemented in a phased approach in accordance with a detailed Time Line. The implementation of the obligations set out in this Time Line was due to have been completed on 29 January 1999, but, as described below, most of the Palestinian obligations set out in the Memorandum are still awaiting implementation.
Despite recent internal political developments in Israel, the Government of Israel has reiterated its commitment to the Wye Memorandum in all its aspects, together with all the other Israel-Palestinian agreements. Israel will continue to negotiate all outstanding issues and implement its obligations on the basis of reciprocity.
Significant Palestinian security obligations are still outstanding. In particular, the Palestinian side has not taken the necessary measures to "outlaw all organizations (or wings of organizations, as appropriate) of a military, terrorist or violent character and their support structure". The Palestinian side has also failed to engage in "full bilateral security cooperation" as required by the Memorandum, and to provide a detailed security work plan for the fight against terrorism.
Also of grave concern is the continuation of the "revolving door" policy whereby security offenders are subjected to token arrests and almost immediately released. In addition, not only has the Palestinian side not imprisoned the wanted terrorists that it undertook to arrest in the Wye talks, but to the contrary, it continues to release terrorists from within its custody.
Under the Wye Memorandum, the Palestinian side undertook to establish a legal framework for the collection of illegal weapons, and also to take significant steps to collect and dispose of illegal weapons. Following these commitments, the Palestinian side issued a decree against illegal weapons, but the Palestinian law on which this decree is based violates the Israeli-Palestinian agreements in a number of respects, including permitting the introduction and use of arms and ammunition absolutely prohibited by the Interim Agreement.
In practice, there are literally thousands of illegal weapons freely held in the areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, not only in the hands of civilians but also in the hands of the Palestinian Police. These weapons considerably exceed the numbers permitted by the Interim Agreement and many of them, including mortars, mines and grenade launchers, are totally prohibited by the Agreement. During the current period, when the international community is witness to the importance of supervision of weaponry and ammunition, these breaches must be treated with particular gravity.
At the Wye talks it was agreed that the modalities for granting weapons licenses, and the categories of persons to be granted such licenses, would be agreed between the two sides in the Joint Security Committee, as required by the Security Annex of the Interim Agreement. This commitment was restated in a letter from Saeb Erakat to the Israeli Cabinet Secretary, dated November 18, 1998. However, despite Israeli requests to raise this issue in the Joint Security Committee, the Palestinian side has refused to discuss
it. In the meantime, the Palestinian side continues to issue weapons licenses, in disregard of its obligation under the Interim Agreement. Thus, not only is the Palestinian side not fulfilling its obligation to confiscate illegal weapons, but, by continuing to grant weapons licences in violation of the Agreement, it is actually exacerbating the situation.
Under the Wye Memorandum it was also agreed that a trilateral committee would be established to deal with the unauthorized introduction of weapons and explosive materials into the Palestinian areas. According to the Time Line, this committee should not only have met, but also have submitted its first report. However, although Israel has appointed its representatives to this committee and requested that it convene, it has still not met.
Under the Wye Time Line, the Palestinian side is obliged to fulfil its outstanding commitment under the Interim Agreement and transfer a list of Palestinian policemen to the Israeli side for its approval. In doing so, it should ensure that the number of policemen does not exceed 30,000, as prescribed by the Interim Agreement. The size of the Palestinian police is currently considerably in excess of this number. Notwithstanding repeated statements by the Palestinian side that the list will "shortly be transferred to Israel", it has still not been received by the Israeli side. It should be recalled that the Memorandum requires not only that the list be transferred but also that the Monitoring and Steering Committee review the list and issue a report.
In the Wye Memorandum, the Palestinian side undertook to issue a decree prohibiting "all forms of incitement to violence and terror" and to establish a mechanism which would "act systematically against all expressions or threats of violence or terror". A decree was published by the Palestinian side on 19 November 1998, and although it makes no reference to terrorism as required by the Memorandum, and contains a number of legal inconsistencies, it was welcomed as a positive step by the Israeli side. However, despite the decree, and the meetings of the trilateral Anti-incitement Committee, incitement to violence and terrorism continues, both by Palestinian Authority leaders and in the official Palestinian media.
Israel was pleased to note that at a meeting in Gaza on 14 December 1998, the PNC adopted a resolution amending the PLO charter, as required by its outstanding obligations from: the exchange of letters between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin dated September 1993, the exchange of letters attached to the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of May 1994, the Interim Agreement of September 1995 and the Note for the Record attached to the Hebron Protocol of January 1997.
The Wye Memorandum restates the prohibition established in the previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements against initiating or taking any step which will change the status of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip. However, notwithstanding the obligation to resolve this issue through negotiations, the Palestinian side has repeatedly stated its intention to unilaterally declare an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital in May 1999. Such statements are inconsistent with the provisions of the Wye Memorandum, with the Interim Agreement, and with the undertaking in Chairman Arafat's letter of September 9, 1993, that "all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations".
Further Redeployment (FRD)
The Wye Memorandum provides for three stages of further redeployment in the course of the Time Line. Each of these is listed at the end of the relevant phase and is contingent upon the implementation of the prior Palestinian commitments within that phase. Upon completion of these commitments Israel is obliged to implement the FRD obligation. Thus, at the conclusion of the second phase, ending week 2 of the Time Line, Israel implemented the first stage of the FRD, transferring 2% of Area C to the status of Area B and 7.1% of Area B to Area A.
At the conclusion of the subsequent phases, Israel was to have implemented further stages of the FRD. However, as noted above, significant Palestinian obligations required to be implemented prior to these stages are still outstanding. Israel awaits implementation of these commitments so that it can implement its FRD undertakings on the basis of reciprocity.
Release of Prisoners
The release of prisoners by Israel was not specifically included in the Wye Memorandum, but it was agreed that 750 prisoners would be released in three phases. Israel has released prisoners in full compliance with both the Wye understanding and the Interim Agreement, and with Israel's clear statement at the Wye talks that it would not release prisoners that were members of the Hamas or Islamic Jihad organizations or who have blood on the hands. Although the provisions of the Interim Agreement and the Wye understanding on this issue are perfectly clear, the Palestinian side has raised new demands, insisting on the release of terrorists with blood on their hands, which have no basis in any of the agreements between the two sides. Moreover, rather than condemn or seek to calm the violent demonstrations that have been fomented over this issue, Palestinian leaders have condoned and even encouraged such violence.
Interim committees and economic issues
The Wye Memorandum provided that the parties would reactivate all standing committees established by the Interim Agreement, and specified in particular the Monitoring and Steering Committee, the Joint Economic Committee, the Civil Affairs Committee, the Legal Committee and the Standing Cooperation Committee. All of these have met on a regular basis since the entry of the Memorandum into force, except for the Legal committee and the Standing Cooperation Committee both of which, despite repeated Israeli calls, the Palestinian side has refused to convene.
The current status of the various interim committees is as follows:
Gaza Airport Committee
The Committee has completed its work. The protocol on Gaza Airport was signed on 20 November 1998, and the airport was officially opened on 24 November 1998. Technical issues relating to the airport continue to be dealt with on a professional basis between the two sides. Israel has expressed particular concern over a recent incident in which Palestinian officials refused to undergo security inspections as agreed in the Airport Protocol, and has stated that should such an incident recur, it will not be able to continue to permit the airport to function.
Gaza Industrial Estate
Following the conclusion of the negotiations between the two sides, the Karni commercial crossing point was opened on 14 December 1998. Israel now awaits Palestinian confirmation that the industrial estate is ready to commence operation.
The negotiations on this issue continue with eight rounds of negotiations having taken place since the signing of the Wye Memorandum. The key issues requiring resolution relate to security responsibilities concerning incoming vessels and in the port area. Israel has made a number of new proposals to resolve these issues.
The two sides have continued to negotiate this issue and have had five rounds of negotiations since Wye. The Wye Memorandum provided that the two sides would make best efforts to conclude the safe passage agreement in relation to the southern route within a week of the entry into force of the Memorandum and start operation of this route as soon as possible thereafter. But although the protocol on safe passage is virtually complete, the Palestinian side has gone back on a number of practical arrangements that were agreed in the Wye talks and, in direct contravention of the Wye Memorandum, insists on dealing with issues relating to the northern route prior to the opening of the southern route. Recent attempts by Israel to convene this committee to close outstanding issues have not met with a positive response.
Standing Cooperation Committee ("People to People")
Many practical projects designed to break down barriers between the two sides are actually happening in the field but, despite repeated Israeli requests, the Palestinian side has not agreed to convene this committee.
Joint Economic Committee
As provided by the Wye Memorandum, the JEC has established an ad hoc committee. It has held five rounds of talks to date, dealing with four key issues as follows:
Car thefts from Israel to the areas under Palestinian jurisdiction - a joint task force of the Israeli and Palestinian police has been established to deal with this problem though its impact has not yet been felt on the ground.
Repayment of Palestinian debts - Palestinian undertakings have been received to repay a number of outstanding debts, but significant debts remain unpaid.
Expansion of the A1 and A2 lists set out in the Paris Economic protocol - Israel has agreed to expand the list relating to trade with Jordan and Egypt.
Purchase tax - Israel has agreed to the Palestinian request for a refund of purchase tax on Israeli products.
Israel's recent attempts to convene this committee to convene discussions have not received a positive response.
Israel has received no response to its repeated requests to convene the Legal Committee in accordance with Article III of the Memorandum.
Trilateral anti-incitement committee
This committee, established by the Wye Memorandum to monitor and prevent incitement, has met five times to date. Very little of substance has been achieved, primarily because of the insistence of the Palestinian side on including discussions of settlements, prisoner releases and other issues dealt with in other fora of negotiations. The Palestinian side has yet to investigate or respond to any of the many examples of incitement to violence provided by the Israeli side, and despite Israeli concerns about frequent calls to Jihad and the use of violence in Palestinian textbooks, refuses to discuss the issue of incitement within the educational system.
Civil Affairs Committee and Civilian sub-committees
These committees continue to operate to resolve issues arising from the transfer of Israeli civilian responsibilities to the Palestinian side, and have held tens of meetings since the conclusion of the Wye Memorandum. Regular meetings are held at the professional level to deal with such issues as water, electricity and the environment, as well as the population registry in the territories.
Sources: Israeli Government Press Office