Arab summit draws anger from Israelis Arabs leaders call for a resumption of peace talks

Israel decries 'dictates'

Netanyahu's reaction is viewed as bad sign for future relations

June 24, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Joshua Brilliant in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

CAIRO, Egypt -- Israel reacted harshly to a call by Arab nations to continue the peace process, saying the Arab summit that ended here yesterday had issued "one-sided demands which harm security."

The Israeli response came as a surprise to Arab leaders who had acceded to U.S. pleas to avoid threats and had taken a moderate stance toward the new Israeli government.

Organizers of the Arab summit, the first in six years, repeatedly said they offered no ultimatums. But as the Arab leaders went home yesterday, Israel branded the summit as one of "dictates" and "threats" and demanded that "such statements must be stopped."

But shortly after the summit ended, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement in Jerusalem that said: "One-sided demands which harm security do not go together with talks for peace. For the process to continue successfully and fruitfully, such statements must be stopped. This is the most basic demand for talks about coexistence and peace."

The final communique of the weekend conference of 21 Arab leaders said that if Israel failed to abide by the agreements it had made, Arab states would have to "reconsider the steps taken in the context of the peace process" since 1991.

In a show of unanimity, the mildly worded communique was accepted even by hard-line Arab leaders who had unsuccessfully sought a resumption of the economic boycott or a freeze in normalization of relations with the new right-wing Israeli government.

"If Israel deviates from the principles of the peace process, retreats from its commitments, or procrastinates this will lead to a setback and a resumption of tension in the region," the statement said. "The Israeli government will bear sole and full responsibility."

The communique came at the conclusion of the summit, called in response to the May 29 election of Netanyahu, a longtime critic of the peace negotiations carried out by the leftist Israeli government that preceded his.

The blunt Israeli response to what Arabs saw as a gesture of conciliation is not an encouraging sign for continuation of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Mubarak's call

In closing the summit, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said: "We call upon Israel to cooperate with us to complete the circle of a comprehensive and just peace, starting with the implementation of what has been agreed on."

Mubarak had successfully engineered the summit's nonthreatening line to present a moderate contrast to Netanyahu's "three no's" -- no negotiation over Jerusalem, no Palestinian state, no return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

Netanyahu repeated his earlier statement about one-sided demands in a speech last night near Jerusalem.

His foreign minister, David Levy, who was chastised last week by Netanyahu's office for suggesting that Israel might compromise on the Golan Heights, yesterday issued an assessment of the Arab summit similar to Netanyahu's.

"Peace cannot be achieved through dictates, certainly not in a style that might be considered a threat. We want a moderate attitude, a correct one, honest one, to continue the process," he said.

Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator, said in Cairo that the Israeli response confirmed Arab doubts about the intentions of the right-wing government.

"I think the current Israeli government has not really made up its mind that it wants to go through with the peace process. I think it thought for a while it could buy time because of the American elections, by continuing to put [on] a good face saying that it wants peace," he said.

'Not belligerent'

"This [summit communique] is not belligerent," Shaath said. "It tells the Israelis, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You've got to have a peace based on fairness to both of us. At least, on what you have already committed yourself and signed for."

Israel signed a peace accord with the Palestinians in September 1993 promising a withdrawal in stages from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiations over Palestinian sovereignty and the status of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has said he will refuse to negotiate those issues and has said he wants to limit Palestinian powers in the Gaza Strip and seven West Bank cities already turned over to their control.

The summit communique repeated the long-standing Arab position that Israel should withdraw from all the areas it captured in the 1967 war, including Arab East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and from southern Lebanon, occupied since 1982.

The summit statement said Israel should "enable the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and to establish their independent state, with Arab Jerusalem as its capital."

The summit also called for an end to Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- which Netanyahu has pledged to expand -- and urged Israel to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it has so far refused to sign.

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