The Wye River Memorandum
October 23, 1998
An Analysis

Background

The Wye River Memorandum is a comprehensive and detailed document, signed between Israel and the Palestinians, designed to break the deadlock in the current peace process, to resolve the outstanding interim period issues and to enable the two sides to go on to tackle the issues of the permanent status negotiations.

The Memorandum does not replace the former agreements. Instead it provides that the provisions of the Memorandum are "subject to the relevant terms and conditions of the prior agreements and do not supersede their other requirements". Accordingly, although the Memorandum places the focus of Palestinian obligations firmly on Palestinian security commitments, it does not absolve the Palestinian side from any of its obligations, including those set out in the Interim Agreement and the Note for the Record.

Further Redeployment

Under the Interim Agreement, Israel undertook to effect a process of further redeployment within the West Bank in three phases. The Interim Agreement specifically provides that these phases were to be implemented commensurate with the assumption by the Palestinian side of its security responsibilities. The failure of the Palestinian side to implement those responsibilities, and in particular the fact that nothing was done to prevent areas transferred to Palestinian authority from becoming places of refuge for terrorists, prevented Israel, in turn, from implementing the further redeployment provisions.

With renewed and strengthened Palestinian undertakings to fight terrorists and their infrastructure, the Memorandum provides that the further redeployment phases may now take place.

In the first and second phases 12% of West Bank territory will be transferred from the status of Area C* to Area B* and 1% to Area A*(1). Of the 12% to be transferred to Area B, 3% will be designated a nature reserve. In this area no construction will be permitted, and Israel will retain the overriding security responsibility in order to protect Israelis and prevent terrorism. Any activity of the Palestinian police in this area shall require prior approval by Israel.

In addition to the areas transferred from Area C to B, 14.2 % shall be transferred from Area B to Area A.

As regards the third phase of the further redeployment process, the Memorandum refers to Secretary Christopher’s letter of January 17, 1997, which letter provided that the designation of the military areas to which Israel would withdraw at the end of the third phase was exclusively in Israel’s hands, and referred the matter to an Israeli-Palestinian committee.

Security Commitments

The security commitments set out in the Memorandum reflect the understanding of the two sides, specifically stated in the Interim Agreement, that it is "their vital interest" to combat terrorism and that "the struggle against terror and violence must be comprehensive … continuous and constant".

Among the most important provisions the Memorandum contains in this regards are the following Palestinian undertakings:

  • to make known its policy of zero tolerance for terror and violence against both sides
  • to implement a detailed work plan, to be implemented in coordination with the United States, to combat terrorist organizations and their infrastructure
  • to apprehend individuals suspected of perpetrating acts of violence and terror
  • to prevent the import and manufacture of illegal weapons and to confiscate all such illegal weapons
  • to prevent incitement to violence or terror, enacting the necessary legislation to criminalize such acts.

In addition to these specific Palestinian undertakings, the Memorandum also provides for extensive cooperation between the sides including forensic cooperation and the establishment of the trilateral US-Israel-Palestinian committee to assess threats and deal with any impediment to effective security cooperation.

The PLO Charter

It will be recalled that, notwithstanding the undertaking given by Chairman Arafat to the late Prime Minster Rabin in September 1993 to cancel the provisions of the PLO Charter that call for the destruction of Israel, advocate the use of violence, or otherwise contradict the fundamental principles of the peace process, and restated in numerous agreements since then, the PLO has still not complied with this commitment. In the Memorandum the Palestinian side undertakes to fulfill this commitment categorically. In the first stage the Executive Committee of the PLO and the Palestinian Central Council will reaffirm the letter sent by Chairman Arafat to President Clinton, which listed the articles of the Charter to be changed or amended. The second and final phase will be the holding of a meeting of the members of the PNC together with other Palestinian leaders to confirm the final amendment of the PLO Charter.

Transfer of Terrorist Suspects

The Interim Agreement provides that the Palestinian side will arrest and transfer terrorist suspects to Israel upon receipt of a formal request. The relevant clauses read as follows:

Annex IV, Article 7.f.

    1) Both sides, upon receipt of a request in accordance with this Article, shall effect the arrest and transfer requested.

    2) If the individual requested is detained in custody or is serving a prison sentence, the side receiving the request may delay the transfer to the requesting side for the duration of the detention or imprisonment.

However, despite the 36 requests that have been submitted by Israel to date, no terrorist suspects have been transferred, and many have not only not been arrested, but serve in the Palestinian Police force.

In the Wye Memorandum the Palestinian side commits itself to respond to Israel’s request within the 12 week implementation period (or, with respect to requests received after the eighth week, within four week of the submission of the request).

Other Security Issues

The Memorandum directly addresses a number of outstanding Palestinian obligations. In particular, it provides that the Palestinian side will provide a list of its policemen to the Israeli side in conformity with the prior agreements. It also requires the Palestinian police to respect human rights and the rule of law, and to avoid harassment.

Civilian and Economic Issues

The Memorandum records that the two sides have concluded arrangements to permit the opening of the Gaza Industrial Estate and the operation of the International Airport in the Gaza Strip. The two sides commit themselves to renewing negotiations on safe passage immediately, with the aim of implementing safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, at least on a partial basis, within one week of the entry into force of the Memorandum. As regards the Gaza Port, the two sides undertake to work towards reaching agreement on this issue within 60 days.

Recognizing the importance of promoting economic development, the parties agree to reactivate all standing committees established by the Interim Agreement. They will also launch a strategic economic dialogue, establishing a special committee to enhance their economic relationship. At the same time the two sides agree to jointly approach the donor community to seek enhanced levels of assistance.

On the legal level they undertake to accelerate efforts to address outstanding legal issues, and the Palestinian side undertakes to provide Israel with copies of all its laws.

Permanent Status Negotiations

Under the prior agreements, the two sides were to have commenced permanent status negotiations at the beginning of the third year of the interim period. However to date the Palestinian side has not been prepared to discuss these issues. Under the Wye Memorandum the two sides agree to immediately resume the negotiations on an accelerated and continuous basis, making a determined effort to achieve the goal of reaching agreement by May 4, 1999, the end of the interim period.

Pending the outcome of these negotiations, the Memorandum repeats the undertaking made in the Interim Agreement that neither side shall take or initiate any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It follows that the Memorandum prohibits the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, requiring that the final status of the territories must be agreed by negotiations between the two sides.

Interrelationship of Obligations – the Time Line

The obligations set out in the Wye Memorandum are not discrete; they are integrally related to each other. This is reflected in the time line attached to the document and an integral part of it, which provides for a phased implementation of obligations. The significance of this time line is that Israel is not required to make further concessions to the Palestinians until they have proved their commitment to implement their obligations. Thus, for example, Israel is only obliged to implement the first phase of further redeployment after the Palestinian side has commenced implementation of its security work-plan, engaged in intensive security cooperation with Israel, and entered into permanent status negotiations.

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(1) The allocation of responsibility in Areas A, B and C is as follows:

* Area A: Palestinian responsibility for security, public order and civilian matters
* Area B: Palestinian responsibility for public order and civilian matters; Israeli responsibility for security
* Area C: Palestinian responsibility for civilian matters not related to territory; Israeli responsibility for civilian matters related to territory, for security and for public order