PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is finally on his way back to Palestinian territory. Nabil Shaath, the Palestine National Authority (PNA) head of planning told reporters on 29 June that the final arrangements were being made for Arafat to travel to Gaza from Cairo at the start of July.

Arafat took the first step of the return journey on 29 June by making an official farewell visit to Tunisia’s President Ben Ali. Tunisia has hosted the headquarters of the PLO since 1982, when the organisation left Beirut after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Arafat’s return was originally due to have taken place at the start of June, but the trip has been delayed because the PLO chairman refused to go back without financial commitments from the international community. Donors have pledged $2,400 million to support the first five years of self-rule. But the Palestinians complain that the international community has been slow to step in and help the new administration deal with its immediate cash flow problems, including paying the newly formed police force. The issue has now been partially resolved since donors said they would immediately release $44 million at a meeting in Paris on 9-10 June (see Gaza/West Bank).

The PLO also wanted to make sure the PLO chairman is not faced with the embarrassment of Israeli searches and delays at the border. ‘I am doing the co-ordination with the highest echelons of decision making in Israel,’ Shaath said. ‘I am in touch almost every hour with (Major) General (Amnon) Shahak, who was my counterpart in the negotiations, and I understand really there is absolutely no problem on any side.’ Other PLO officials, including Shaath, have faced repeated delays by Israeli security forces at crossing points between the self-rule area and neighbouring states.

Arafat is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres in Paris on 6 July, Environment Minister Yossi Sarid said on 28 June. The meeting is expected to take place during a ceremony when the three men will each receive an award for their peace efforts from the UN Education, Scientific & Cultural Organisation.