The Wye River Memorandum

On 23 October 1998, an official ceremony took place at the White House for the signing of the Wye River Memorandum. The Memorandum was concluded after intensive negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides for about 10 days at the Wye River Center, with full-scale U.S. participation, including that of the U.S. President and the Secretary of State, and some diplomatic intervention by King Hussein of Jordan.

The Memorandum, which was signed by President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and witnessed by President Bill Clinton, is comprised of steps to facilitate implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995 and other related agreements, including the Note for the Record of 1997. The Memorandum states that "these steps are to be carried out in a parallel phased approach in accordance with this Memorandum and the attached timeline. They are subject to the relevant terms and conditions of the prior agreements and do not supersede their other requirements."

Five basic issues are dealt with in the Memorandum, namely further redeployment, security, interim committees and economic issues (transitional period issues), permanent status negotiations and unilateral actions. As for further redeployments, and with regard to phases one and two, Israel will redeploy from an additional 13% of the West Bank, in addition to another 14.2% which will change from an area B designation to area A under full Palestinian control. The third phase of further redeployment was reaffirmed by the Memorandum and will be addressed by a bilateral committee that will regularly brief the U.S.

With regard to security, as per the interim agreement, the Palestinian side agreed to take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime and hostilities directed against the Israeli side, just as the Israeli side agreed to take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime and hostilities directed against the Palestinian side. In accordance with the Memorandum, the Palestinian side’s implementation of its responsibilities for security include the following: outlawing and combating terrorist organizations; prohibiting illegal weapons; preventing incitement to violence and terror; and security cooperation and other issues.

With regard to the PLO Charter, the Executive Committee of the PLO will reaffirm President Arafat’s letter to President Clinton enumerating the provisions of the Charter that were abrogated as a result of the Palestine National Council (PNC) decision of 1996, and the same will be done by the Central Council of the PLO. At a later stage, members of the PNC, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and Palestinian heads of ministries will be invited by the Speaker of the PNC to a meeting to be addressed by President Clinton to reaffirm "their support for the peace process and the afore-mentioned decisions of the Executive Committee and the Central Council."

Further, the Memorandum stresses the need for due regard for internationally accepted norms of human rights and the rule of law. The section dealing with transitional period issues reflects the conclusion of a protocol regarding the establishment and operation of the international airport in the Gaza Strip, as well as the Gaza industrial estate. It also contains arrangements for the safe passage, with the agreement on the southern route to be concluded within a week of the entry into force of the Memorandum and with the negotiations on the northern route to continue with the goal of reaching agreement as soon as possible. The part regarding the port of Gaza calls for the two sides to reactivate committee negotiations immediately with the goal of concluding the protocol within 60 days. The Memorandum also addressed economic and financial issues, including Israeli purchase taxes and the attempt to organize a ministerial conference before the end of 1998 to seek pledges for enhanced levels of assistance for the Palestinian side.

As for the permanent status negotiations, the two sides agreed to "immediately resume permanent status negotiations on an accelerated basis and will make a determined effort to achieve the mutual goal of reaching an agreement by 4 May 1999." On unilateral actions, the Memorandum states that "neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement."

The timeline attached to the Memorandum provides for its implementation in five stages, which are to be completed within 12 weeks. Finally, the Memorandum indicates that it will enter into force 10 days from the date of signature, which effectively meant 2 November 1998.

Obviously, the text shows that the Memorandum retained the basic elements of the U.S. initiative, largely without change, irrespective of the maneuvering and the loss of time by the Israeli side. Also, the impossible demands made by Mr. Netanyahu before and during the negotiations were neither accepted nor included in the text, such as the extradition of accused Palestinians and the convening of the PNC to do the same thing that was done by the same PNC in 1996. On the other hand, the text has several drawbacks, the most important of which is that no maps were attached.

Overall, the conclusion of the Wye Memorandum is very important. If implemented, it will bring the peace process back on track and bring the two sides to a new threshold. Several remarks can be made in this regard. American involvement at such a level is unprecedented, with regard to both the negotiations as well as the implementation of the Memorandum, in addition to the further improvement of the U.S.-Palestinian relationship. Moreover, this implementation will lead to tangible progress with regard to the existence of a Palestinian entity in the West Bank, similar to what happened in Gaza. That, at the same time, will mean an end to the Israeli right wing ideology of "Greater Israel".

The main problem, however, will probably be the hesitance of the Prime Minister to faithfully implement this agreement, especially if extremists on either side take any dramatic action. Needless to say, any repeat on the Palestinian side of previous bombings, (which we strongly seek to prevent), would inevitably provide the Israeli right wing government with a reason or pretext for not following through with the implementation, regardless of the efforts exerted by the Palestinian leadership in this regard.

With the recent bombing attempt in Gaza and with the Israeli government’s continued settlement activities, especially in Jerusalem and Al-Khalil, the outset following the signing of the Wye River Memorandum has not been promising. That is why all efforts must be urgently directed at implementation without deviation from the Memorandum. This will require the continuation of the same level of U.S. engagement and will also require a firm position on the Arab and international level clarifying that any attempt to evade the obligations of the Memorandum will not be tolerated. In turn, this will hopefully ensure the achievement of a major step towards peace and stability.