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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK

World: Middle East

Israeli security high on the agenda

The Palestinians have stepped up security in their territories

While all eyes are on the talks in the United States between Israel and the Palestinians, details are emerging about the crucial security negotiations between the two sides before the summit.

A key demand by Israel is that the Palestinian Authority improves its record in preventing attacks against Israeli targets.

The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) appears to have been involved. CIA director George Tenet spent much of the past week in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

According to some sources, a draft security arrangement has been agreed with the Palestinians on how Israeli security requirements could be satisfied.

No Palestinian official has confirmed the reports, but Palestinian sources told the BBC that the CIA director was satisfied with the Palestinian commitments and that Israeli military officials were too.

The proposals were said to have included disarmament of civilians and settlers on both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides of the West Bank and Gaza.

But when the plan was put before Israel's political leaders, it appears they rejected it.

A similar security deal was vetoed by the Israeli prime minister in December 1997.

The apparent failure of all this activity now means that the summit in the United States is going ahead without an agreement on Israel's security.

But one of the American officials expected to be at the Wye Plantation and to play an active role in the negotiations is CIA director, George Tenet.

Israel's demands

Israeli officials are insistent that the Palestinian Authority launch a systematic crackdown on Islamic militants to improve security in territories under its control.

They also have a number of other security-related demands:

  • For the Palestinians to rewrite their covenant to reflect their decision to scrap references to Israel's destruction

  • The seizure of illegal arms in Palestinian-controlled areas

  • Extradition of suspected extremists to stand trial in Israel

  • A reduction of the number of men serving in various armed police units

  • Elimination of anti-Israeli incitement in the Palestinian media

But for the Palestinians, the Israeli focus on security seems intended to derail the peace process that has only been half-heartedly supported.

In the last two years - a period roughly coinciding with Binyamin Netanyahu's government - the number of Israelis killed in extremist violence is at its lowest for a decade.

According to figures from the Israeli prime minister's office, only 36 Israelis have been killed in such attacks in the past 12 months - while 528 by contrast have died in traffic accidents.

And to undercut the militant Hamas organisation, the Palestinian Authority has carried out a number of activities including arresting the student council of the Islamic University in Gaza.

The Palestinians say the decline in extremist violence continues to go all but unnoticed in Israel.

However, although Hamas has failed to carry out a major attack in over a year, there is still concern that the group's ability to perpetrate violence remains largely intact.

And there remains the difficult and very real question of how far can the Palestinian Authority go in a clampdown on Hamas without risking a serious backlash from the movement's supporters.

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