Netanyahu toughens talk to oppose Palestinian state PLO official surprised by rigid tone but sees political considerations

February 15, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a sharply worded address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned Palestinians yesterday that they must lower their expectations and abandon their goal of their own state covering all of the West Bank and Gaza if they want a lasting peace with Israel.

If Palestinians continue to demand a state that combines all the territory now occupied by Israel, with half of Jerusalem as its capital, Netanyahu asserted, "that will not produce a solution. That will produce a lack of solution. It will produce, ultimately, a breakdown."

In a speech here, the prime minister assumed a tough posture in advance of visits to Washington by Arab leaders and the talks beginning next month on the most troublesome issues blocking a full peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Those "final status" issues include Palestinian statehood, sovereignty over Jerusalem, borders, Jewish settlements and the return of Palestinian refugees.

Netanyahu's talk to an audience assembled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, coming a day after President Clinton spoke of "a renewed sense of promise in the Middle East," struck a jarring note with a Palestinian representative who was present.

"I really was surprised myself," Khalil Foutah, deputy director of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, said in an interview. "I thought, after Hebron and all these talks, the tone would have changed between us."

Foutah's mention of the West Bank town of Hebron referred to last month's Israeli-Palestinian agreement under which Israel committed itself to a substantial withdrawal from Hebron and a timetable for other troop withdrawals in the West Bank.

Foutah speculated, however, that Netanyahu might have been laying down a rigid line for public consumption -- the prime minister's Likud bloc includes hard-liners who oppose giving up any land to Palestinians -- and might well end up being more flexible than he sounded yesterday.

"He has a constituency back home," Foutah said. "Maybe he's talking to them."

In fact, some analysts see more hope of progress in further reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians than in negotiations between Israel and Syria. Talks between those two countries have not resumed since the elections in May that brought Netanyahu and his conservative Likud bloc into office.

But Netanyahu seemed intent yesterday on setting a high price for further Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. He said he approached all peace negotiations from the standpoint, first and foremost, of ensuring the security of the Israeli people.

Israel spells it out

The prime minister recounted how he, accompanied by two army officials, had laid out maps of the West Bank before Clinton on Thursday to spell out Israel's requirements in any territorial compromise with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu demanded that Palestinians put terrorists "back in jail," amend their charter to prove they are committed to peace, collect illegal weapons and shut down their offices in Jerusalem.

"The nature of their commitments is often reversible," he complained, arguing that Israel has outpaced the Arabs in fulfilling its part of agreements.

Saying it was important to put the expectations of both sides into "a realistic framework," Netanyahu said his government had moved much further than the Palestinians toward "an accommodation with reality."

Jerusalem feelings clear

In his meetings Thursday with Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Netanyahu said, "I made clear our feelings about Jerusalem."

"We will not redivide Jerusalem," he said. "We will not allow the re-emergence or re-erection of a Berlin Wall inside that city. And we will do everything that is necessary to do to ensure the united and undivided nature of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty."

Combating hostility

Making a larger point, he demanded that Arab leaders generally work to combat the still-pervasive hostility toward Israel among their peoples. As an example, he said that the female prisoners released this week by Israel were greeted by Palestinians with TC "glorification of their bloodshed."

"In the Middle East," he said, "the change of heart always goes from the top down. And one of the most important changes that has to take place is the education of hearts and minds that can only be done by leaders."

Flexibility on Syria

Discussing Syria, Netanyahu offered a bit of flexibility over Syria's demand that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights. He said his negotiators were prepared to "take note" of the progress made in talks with the previous Israeli government.

But he still refused to be bound by any informal arrangements, saying: "We can only honor signed agreements."

Pub Date: 2/15/97

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