Albright urges halt to Israeli settlement 'Timeout' suggested to help peace process

September 12, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright prodded Israel yesterday to demonstrate its commitment to the Mideast peace process by refraining from expanding settlements, seizing land and demolishing Palestinian homes.

She said a "timeout" in such activities would pave the way for an acceleration of talks necessary to reach a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Defeating terror is paramount," Albright said, reiterating her earlier demand of the Palestinians, "but if mutual confidence is to be restored, both sides must also renew and reinforce their commitment to the [1993] Oslo process."

Israel's response to Albright's call to freeze settlement expansion was swift and resolute.

"There is no question of freezing building in settlements," said David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Freezing building is no more possible than freezing life because these settlements are living organisms."

But Bar-Illan said he did not believe Albright intended for Israeli construction to stop before the Palestinians root out terrorists in their villages and dismantle terrorist operations.

"She has made it clear in all her pronouncements that the fight against terrorist infrastructure by the Palestinian authority must precede any give-and-take in negotiations," he said.

Albright made her pitch to Israel during a speech before about 200 people at a Jerusalem high school attended by Jews and Arabs. She arrived in Israel Wednesday to try to salvage a peace process shattered by terrorist attacks in the Jewish state and Israeli policies considered provocative by the Palestinians.

In public statements and speeches, Albright has emphasized America's close relationship to Israel, and reiterated its strong support of Israel's security needs. At the same time, she has demanded of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that his fight against terrorism be "serious, sustained and effective" and acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli sanctions imposed after two recent terrorist bombings.

Albright reiterated that message in her first meeting with Arafat, a two-hour session yesterday in Ramallah, a West Bank town controlled by Palestinians.

Arafat identified a series of Israeli policies that Palestinians contend violate the Oslo peace accords, which were signed four years ago this week. They include settlement expansion, house demolitions, bans on traveling to Israel and withholding $67 million in Palestinian funds.

The Palestinian leader, who has often publicly condoned armed resistance against the Israeli occupiers, repeated a pledge to fight terrorism.

"I say enough violence and enough bloodshed. It is time for peace, a comprehensive and just peace," he said. "I re-emphasize that the Palestinian authority will shoulder all of its responsibilities and I hope the Israeli government will do the same thing."

Albright said Arafat had outlined steps taken by his administration to fight terrorism. She called them "steps which we welcome."

The Palestinian authority's fight "cannot be pursued only when it is convenient to do so," said Albright, who wore a shawl accented with Palestinian embroidery. "If we are to sustain a political process and if Palestinians are to realize their political aspirations, they must deal with this terrible challenge."

But she noted that while the two can agree that "terrorists are terrible we have not yet been able to see what the best methods are to get the peace process back on track."

"We have a long way to go," said Albright, who leaves for Syria and Egypt today.

Her visit to Ramallah was accompanied neither by cheering crowds nor, as some officials here expected, by angry demonstrators. Palestinians repeatedly complain that the United States sides too often with Israel and Albright's stern exhortation to Arafat on terrorism only confirmed that view for them. But last night, Marwan Kanafani, a spokesman for Arafat, said Palestinians were pleased to hear the secretary of state call on Israel to refrain from activities they find objectionable -- namely expanding settlements.

"This is a brave and courageous step," he said. "And we appreciate it."

The memory of Arafat's former peace partner, Yitzhak Rabin, surfaced several times yesterday. The Israeli prime minister was killed in 1995 by a right-wing, religious Jew who opposed the peace process. Netanyahu, an outspoken opponent of the Oslo accords, narrowly defeated Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres, last year by pledging to bring Israel peace with security.

Yesterday morning, Albright laid a wreath at Rabin's grave in Jerusalem after meeting with his widow, Leah.

Later, Arafat invoked Rabin's name while restating the Palestinians' commitment to the peace process. And then last night, the Palestinian leader and Mrs. Rabin honored the dead prime minister by reaffirming the peace agreements that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders concluded in 1993.

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Pub Date: 9/12/97

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