Netanyahu promises to resume peace talks if terrorism stops Stance places pressure on Arafat to rein in action of Arab extremist groups

June 26, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised yesterday to resume negotiations with Arabs, but said talks with the Palestinians would depend on an end to terrorism.

In doing so, he appeared to be holding the Palestinian authority, and its president, Yasser Arafat, responsible for terrorist acts by radical Islamic groups.

"It's either terrorism or peace, but you cannot have both," he said after meeting here with Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

In Netanyahu's first news conference since his May 29 election, he repeated his pledge to pursue peace and continued his silence on how the negotiations will overcome his own opposition to the progress made by the previous Israeli government.

He asserted the "unqualified right" of Jews to settle in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and declined to say if Israel will carry out its agreement to redeploy troops from Hebron, both flash points in relations with the Palestinians.

Christopher is scheduled to go to Cairo today to meet with Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to report on his meeting. At a summit in Egypt last weekend, 21 Arab nations urged Israel to carry out its commitments in the peace process.

Netanyahu said that he welcomed resumed negotiations with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians, as long as the Arabs did not demand any preconditions.

"We believe the principle that should guide these negotiations is no prior conditions. I believe this is the only way to achieve productive and successful negotiations," he said.

His own terms include a refusal to negotiate over the Golan Heights, Palestinian statehood or the sovereignty of Jerusalem. He avoided answering a question about whether Israel stands by its 1991 agreement to negotiate "land for peace," saying instead that Israel's security will be the determining factor.

"I want to make it clear that we want to see the advancement toward peace, and as well, that the achievement of such progress toward peace is contingent on security," Netanyahu said.

Christopher backed up the new Israeli prime minister, saying, "We have an unshakable commitment to Israel's security and well-being."

Netanyahu's comments prompted a quick response from Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. He said that Netanyahu's statements "indicate Israel's attempt to throw overboard the principles agreed to in [the 1991 peace conference at] Madrid, and circumvent the principle of land for peace."

Progress in negotiations with Syria and in implementing the peace accords with Palestinians stopped in advance of Israel's May 29 election and have not resumed since the election of Netanyahu, a strident critic of the peace process.

If the Arabs who met in Cairo's summit were looking to Christopher for a sign that the United States would push Netanyahu to fulfill those obligations, there was no such public indication from the secretary of state.

Asked if he had urged Netanyahu to carry out the promised troop withdrawal from Hebron, Christopher declined to answer. Asked if he conveyed the traditional U.S. opposition to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Christopher said: "If I begin to talk about particular issues, I will devalue my role in this peace process."

Israel's previous, Labor-led government, under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, had sought to reach a peace treaty with Syria that was expected to involve giving back the Golan Heights plateau, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Similarly, the Labor government had made a series of agreements with the Palestinians that involved the gradual return to Palestinian control of parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The initial exchange of letters between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in September 1993 pledged the Palestinians to "renounce the use of all terrorism and other acts of violence, and assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel to assure compliance."

The PLO has not since claimed any terrorist acts. Rabin pressured Arafat to crack down on other Islamic terrorist groups, which Arafat did, although never to Israel's full satisfaction. But Rabin also cautioned that neither Israel's army nor the Palestinian authority could succeed in completely stopping religious fanatics bent on suicide.

Yesterday, Netanyahu brushed aside the distinction between Arafat's authority and shadowy groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for a string of suicide bombings this year that killed nearly 60 persons.

Netanyahu said his government will have contact with the Palestinian authority. "There are many problems in the relations with the Palestinian authority, but the lack of channels of communication will not be one of them," he said.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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