A NEW Israeli-Palestinian agreement on self-rule in the occupied territories seems about 98 percent settled and is scheduled to be signed May 4 in Cairo. The agreement is based on the Oslo accord that PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn Sept. 13, 1993.
The latest agreement seems to represent progress within the framework already set up. Until now there has been no actual implementing of any agreement on the ground. But at the minimal level a Cairo signing moves chairman Arafat from Tunis to Jericho, allows for Palestinian police to be deployed there, and requires that Israeli forces partially withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
A new economic agreement between the PLO and Israel allows the World Bank to go ahead with assistance to the new Jericho government of some $1.4 billion. This money is the first real outside investment for impoverished Gaza.
Still, the progress of Cairo is progress inside an agreement in which one side has all the leverage. Since the famous White House handshake, it has become clear the Oslo accord was mainly an agreement to reach an agreement. It is not what Palestinians or most Westerners thought it was. Agreement was reached in Cairo on Feb. 9, April 4, and May 4.
To step outside the language and framework of the peace process as it has been defined since the Oslo accord is to recognize that the Palestinian people, for the first time since 1947, have agreed to be an ethnic group inside of a Greater Israel.
Some would suggest that this process represents first steps toward Palestinian statehood. But in fact, Mr. Arafat has agreed to give up the dream of a sovereign nation. What Arafat has agreed to is a cessation of pressure and pain on his people from Israel - ``domination'' as Mr. Rabin rightly called it this week. In exchange, Arafat himself takes responsibility for the job Israel had been performing - policing the territories.
As of this writing, Palestinians will not have legitimate passports. They will not even be allowed to issue their own postage stamps. They will own banks as a franchise, but the currency is issued from Jordan or Israel.
Cairo will be ratified by Arafat, a man who was not elected by his people, who is increasingly isolated from them, who now depends on Israel for his own security, and who has not even been allowed by Israeli negotiators to call himself ``president.''
Real progress, whether inside or outside the Cairo framework, depends on creating security for both Israelis and Palestinians.