Clinton, Mubarak urge Israel to honor accords West Bank roads called threat to peace process

July 31, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of Israeli plans to build new roads in the West Bank, President Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday urged Israel's new hard-line government to honor its peace accords with the Palestinians.

Neither leader appeared anxious for immediate confrontation with Israel's conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but both indicated that the proposed road construction could complicate, if not derail, the peace process.

Clinton stressed that the plans to build two roads in the West Bank and widen two bridges to the Golan Heights were put forward not by the new government but by one of its ministers, Ariel Sharon, a right-wing hawk and former defense chief who is now the minister of national infrastructure.

"I don't want to blame them for something they haven't done yet," said Clinton.

Recalling his "good" talks here with the Israeli prime minister three weeks ago, Clinton added: "My understanding is [the construction plan] has not yet been adopted by the government, and the government's commitment is to continue the peace process and not to do anything inconsistent with the commitments made by the Israeli government before it."

The previous Labor government shelved the road works in favor of construction inside Israel. Sharon's announcement Monday that the plans would be revived provoked Arab and Palestinian anger over a move widely seen as increasing Israeli control over the disputed areas.

Egypt's Mubarak, in Washington to consult with the president and other policy-makers, said that if the road work was in Palestinian areas, he feared it would "complicate the whole process."

"Activities which are inconsistent with the requirements and spirit of peace, such as settlement activities and the confiscation of lands, should be terminated," said the Egyptian leader. "We are all quite aware of the risks involved if the peace process is terminated or set back. No party would benefit from this prospect."

The Clinton administration has endorsed the land-for-peace formula, which Mubarak yesterday identified along with the political rights of the Palestinians as "the core" of the peace process.

Netanyahu has rejected the formula and has called for talks without any preconditions.

Like Clinton, the Egyptian president said that Netanyahu had not yet had time to implement the peace accords, adding: "I hope he could continue to implement this agreement, for it is very important at least to give the people a good signal that Israel respects and honors its commitments."

In another move that provoked Arab concern this week over the new government's commitment to peace, Netanyahu said he favored development in the occupied territories as much as he supported new construction inside Israel.

According to reports from Israel, the prime minister is expected to lift curbs imposed by the Labor government on settlement expansion.

Under the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, the future of the settlements is to be decided in the final round of negotiations on permanent peace, which will also address the future status of Jerusalem and define territorial borders.

Asked how the U.S. would respond to renewed expansion of the settlements, Clinton said: "We have to encourage everyone not to do anything which would weaken the chances of peace."

His carefully measured responses reflected a desire to avoid escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions, his willingness to give the new Israeli government time to prove its commitment to peace, and the emphasis he puts on U.S. resolve in the delicate pursuit of that peace.

The Netanyahu government is taking "a different approach" to the peace process, the president said. But he quickly added: "I think that there is a broad understanding in Israel that this is a process that can't simply be stopped or reversed. You have to go forward with it, and I believe that that's what they will do."

Stressing that U.S. Middle East policy has not been affected by the Israeli election, he said: "None of our positions have changed, and they won't change. What I will continue to do is to do everything I can to push them to take risks for peace and minimize those risks for peace."

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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