Jenin Hopeful as Negotiators Scramble to Meet Deadline
JENIN, West Bank (AP) _ Street vendor Mohaymen Abu Dom was already out of Yasser Arafat posters by midday and plastic Palestinian flags were selling briskly at 30 cents apiece.
Abu Dom’s sales reflected fresh hopes that after months of delays, Israeli occupation troops would soon pull out of this Palestinian town, marking the start of a gradual West Bank withdrawal.
``It is better to be ruled by my own people than by outsiders,″ said 19-year-old Abu Dom, speculating Thursday on what may be the imminent arrival of Palestinian police in the town of 25,000.
As Abu Dom pushed his three-wheel cart through the Jenin market, Israeli and PLO negotiators scrambled to meet a weekend deadline for an overall agreement on a West Bank troop pullback, Palestinian elections and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
If they fail, as is likely, they will reportedly make a joint announcement by Saturday on a list of ``understandings,″ with the aim of signing a final pact by mid-July, perhaps in Washington.
The two sides were busy preparing confidence boosters Thursday to cushion Palestinian disappointment over another missed date.
Israel radio said hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would be released before the signing ceremony.
And Israeli officials confirmed that on Sunday, senior Palestinian police officers will tour army installations in Jenin to prepare for the handover.
Jenin residents said they have already spotted many signs the Israelis are getting ready to leave town, ending 28 years of occupation.
The Israeli-appointed Arab mayor, Abdallah Lahlouh, widely viewed as a collaborator, left town two weeks ago and has resettled in the Israeli resort of Tiberias, residents said.
Soft drink vendor Nimr Kundil said he saw two Israeli soldiers burning files and documents outside Israeli military headquarters Wednesday.
Ahmed Shawer, who runs the Paradise Fruits and Vegetables shop outside the compound, said five moving trucks arrived late one night last week, and were gone the next morning.
``An officer told me they are leaving within 15 days,″ Shawer, 32, whispered conspiratorially.
Residents said Israel’s military government has already stopped issuing its blue car license plates with Hebrew letters. Israel’s military government denied this, however.
In areas under PLO rule _ the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho _ such plates have been replaced with green ones with a ``P″ for ``Palestine″ in Arabic and English.
The Palestinians have also been busy making preparations.
Hilal Ahmed, appointed by Arafat as a local security chief, said the Palestinians have already picked out four locations in Jenin where Palestinian police will be housed.
Security agents have been writing detailed reports on the sites Israel is to transfer to the Palestinians to avoid the confusion that accompanied the handover in Gaza and Jericho.