2 Likud members urge Netanyahu to meet Arafat Pressure increasing as Israel's president announces own visit

August 26, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Efforts to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet Yasser Arafat increased yesterday as President Ezer Weizman announced that he would visit with the Palestinian authority's leader.

Two members of Netanyahu's ruling Likud bloc also encouraged the prime minister to see Arafat and resume the stalled peace process. The prime minister has come under increasing pressure, especially from abroad, to meet with the Palestinian leader. Since his election in May, Netanyahu has refused to commit to a meeting with Arafat, saying only that he would do so if and when he deemed it necessary.

A spokesman for the prime minister said last night that nothing had changed. "There is no plan for now to meet Arafat, no plan and no date," said Shai Bazak, the spokesman.

Weizman said yesterday he agreed to meet with Arafat, the elected leader of more than 2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, after receiving a letter from the Palestinian president. In his letter, Arafat apparently talked of the "distress" he felt about the stalemate in the peace process, the president said.

"Arafat, whether we like it or not, is the first Palestinian leader in 100 years to make a major political achievement," Weizman told Israel Radio. "When a leader like this sits in our midst a man like this who has achieved these things and requests to meet with me, we must grant the request."

Weizman, who met Arafat at the 1994 inauguration of South African President Nelson Mandela, did not set a date for the meeting. Weizman, whose post as president is mainly ceremonial, said he would invite Arafat to his home in Caesarea.

Netanyahu called published reports that Weizman gave him an ultimatum about meeting Arafat "nonsense."

"He never gave one. He would never give one," Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel Radio.

Netanyahu said he and the president agreed that any meetings with Arafat "will be done in coordination between the two of us at the appropriate time based on certain developments."

Two members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, also called on Netanyahu to meet with Arafat. Both Gideon Ezra and Meir Shetrit are members of Netanyahu's ruling Likud bloc.

"We promised the people we will bring peace with security and I'm calling on the prime minister to do it right away," said Shetrit. "The prime minister should meet [Arafat] once with no delay and without any necessary push from the president of Israel. The one who is running the game is the prime minister and he should act this way."

Since his election, Netanyahu has sent emissaries to meet with Arafat. They included his senior foreign policy adviser, Dore Gold. In the past two weeks, peace negotiators for the two sides have met to discuss civil administrative matters.

But the thorny issues regarding the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are matters for another panel.

The Netanyahu government has yet to make good on Israel's commitment to redeploy its troops from the city of Hebron, home to more than 100,000 Palestinians. The redeployment was postponed by the previous Labor government of Shimon Peres after terrorist bus bombings killed 59 people in March and April.

Last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak threatened to cancel a Middle East economic summit scheduled for November because of Israel's foot-dragging on peace negotiations. Netanyahu called Mubarak to reassure him that talks would begin soon.

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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