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Sunday, September 5, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK

World: Middle East

Analysis: Can the deal work?

Both sides want swift progress towards a final settlement

By Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem

The new peace deal agreed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Saturday ends eight months of stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

Middle East
Crucially, it also sets out a timetable for reaching a permanent peace agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A declaration of principles on the final status agreement is due to be made now on 15 February next year, and the two sides have allowed themselves one year from now to reach a permanent final peace agreement.

This time frame is highly optimistic, given the difficulties the two sides have had even reaching this agreement. However, it does signal the intention of both sides to work quickly.

Troops pull out

In the next few days, the Israelis will start implementing the troop withdrawals from the West Bank, called for by the Wye accord.

By next January, Israel must have withdrawn from 11% of the West Bank.

The agreement also involved the release of 350 Palestinian prisoners - the first batch in the next two weeks.

The new peace agreement also sets out dates for the building of a sea port in Gaza and the opening of a safe passage route which Palestinians can use to travel from the West Bank to Gaza.

The deal was agreed after weeks of intense negotiations and bickering, which prompted the last-minute intervention of US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

The Wye Peace accord was never fully implemented by the previous Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because of the domestic political backlash following its signing.

Domestic opposition

Now too domestic Israeli opposition is surfacing. Newly elected Likud party leader Ariel Sharon has criticised the agreement to release 350 Palestinian political prisoners as "moral bankruptcy."

This criticism came even though the deal was widely seen as a victory for Ehud Barak.

On the Palestinian side, two guerrilla groups, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also condemned the deal, saying the Israelis had extracted too many Palestinian concessions.

Elsewhere in the region, Syria said on Sunday that it did not approve of the deal.

Broader than Wye

The Israeli and the Palestinian leaders will therefore have to face down political opposition from many sides as the agreement is implemented, yet still the new peace deal does mark a significant breakthrough.

The accord is broader than the original Wye agreement, because it specifies a schedule for reaching a final agreement.

It also carries more weight because Mr Barak appears far more committed to achieving peace than did his right-wing predecessor.

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