The Netanyahu-Arafat handshake Summit at last: Momentum for peace restored with focus on disputes.

September 05, 1996

MANY DOUBTED it would ever happen. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shook hands with Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat yesterday. They conversed for an hour and committed themselves to implement agreements already reached. With that, the disputes between them, which they did not resolve, became susceptible to resolution. The Oslo peace process is up and running, with a Likud Party government that had been critical of it.

Mr. Netanyahu is coming to see President Clinton on Monday. Without this prior meeting, Mr. Clinton might not have found time. Egypt had threatened to cancel a November conference on regional economic integration if Israel does not start implementing obligations to the Palestinian Authority. A key will be whether Israeli troops can be redeployed from Hebron without undercutting security for the Israeli settlers in that city.

In other words, Mr. Netanyahu can be seen to be giving in to international pressure in having met the veteran PLO leader, after having often vowed he would not do so. Most Israelis, including many who voted for him, also wanted Israel's prime minister to meet the country's former nemesis, now partner in peace-making. But many, all of whom voted for Mr. Netanyahu, opposed the meeting. The foreign pressure makes it easier for Mr. Netanyahu to face them.

Besides Hebron, Palestinians want unlimited admission to Israel for Palestinian workers; a renewal of the freeze on settlements; further redeployments; and safe passages between Gaza and the West Bank. Besides security for Israeli settlers, Israel wants greater Palestinian efforts against terrorism, and cessation of activities in Arab East Jerusalem that may symbolize it as a capital before talks on final status have taken up that issue.

While the Netanyahu-Arafat meeting coincided with the latest U.S.-Iraqi crisis, the Israeli prime minister said he did not foresee "a danger of this conflict spilling over in our direction." But since Israel was hit by Iraqi missiles during the Gulf War, he added that his nation would take "whatever actions are necessary." No doubt the situation will be high on the agenda when he visits Mr. Clinton.

The relationship begun by Mr. Arafat and Mr. Netanyahu is cold and correct, lacking the chumminess that Mr. Arafat finally developed with former Prime Minister Yitzhak Peres. But a start has been made on forging sturdy links between the Palestinian Authority and the new government of Israel. That is a most important breakthrough.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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