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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rabin Pledges Rapid Power Transfer

EREZ, Gaza -- Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met PLO leader Yasser Arafat on Tuesday and said Israel planned to complete its handover of administrative powers to Palestinians by the end of the month.

After meeting Arafat for two hours on the edge of the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip, Rabin also announced a further easing of Israel's closure of Gaza and the West Bank, imposed after the Tel Aviv bus bombing Oct. 19.

"We will continue 'early empowerment,'" Rabin said at a joint news conference with Arafat. "On the 15th of the month we will transfer powers on tourism and welfare. By the end of the month, we will transfer health and taxation." These were the four remaining areas of power to be transfered to Palestinians in the self-rule areas under a 1993 peace deal.

Palestinians assumed responsibility for education at the start of the school year in September.

Rabin said completing the handover was contingent on donor countries making good on pledges to aid Palestinians. Arafat said, "As to money, we have received some promises from some very dear friends."

Rabin said Israel had agreed that a further 10,000 Palestinian laborers could return to work in the Jewish state.

Last week Rabin approved 13,000 new work papers for Palestinians, all of whom must be married, over the age of 30 and previous holders of permits -- categories that Israel believes will reduce security risks.

Palestinian officials had complained the closure, preventing about 70,000 Palestinians from going to jobs in Israel, throttled their economy, fueling opposition to the peace accord.

Rabin promised more talks on Palestinian elections and on the Israeli troop redeployment due to take place in the West Bank before the elections are held.

"In two weeks we will enter into negotiations on elections, redeployment, security arrangements, transfer of authority, and all subjects connected with the next stage in implementing" the peace accord, Rabin said.

"They will certainly be complex negotiations, in which we, as Israelis, will have to ensure ourselves all the components of security. I cannot estimate how many months the talks will last," he said.

Israel handed over Gaza and the West Bank enclave of Jericho to Palestinians six months ago. Under the accord, elections were due to have taken place in July in Gaza and Jericho and the parts of the West Bank still administered by Israel.

In four rounds of negotiations on the issue, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have failed to reach agreement on a new election date or on the size and powers of the Palestinian council that would run self-rule.