Netanyahu orders staff to stop seeking meeting with Clinton U.S. officials say president isn't ducking Israeli leader over stalled peace talks

November 26, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- After trying for weeks to arrange a meeting with President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his staff to stop calling the White House, a top aide said yesterday.

Netanyahu's decision follows comments that Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright were running out of patience with the Israeli prime minister over a lack of progress in the stalled Mideast peace talks.

The sentiments of the president and Albright were relayed by Martin Indyk, a top aide to the secretary of state and the former American ambassador to Israel. He relayed those reactions while addressing a luncheon group in the United States.

Washington has been seeking a "time out" in the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, home to 1.7 million Palestinians and 150,000 Jews.

Netanyahu's decision to refrain from pursuing a meeting with Clinton comes amid reports that the prime minister is considering consolidating the next two phases of Israeli troop withdrawals from Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The proposal would return 5 percent to 6 percent of lands now controlled by Israel to the Palestinians, an increase over a -previous plan submitted by the Netanyahu government. The Palestinians want 20 percent to 30 percent of the West Bank lands.

But the Israeli plan is contingent on the Palestinians' continuing to combat terrorism and -dismantle the terrorists' infrastructure, the prime minister's office said.

The prime minister's proposal has raised the ire of the nationalist, religious members of his coalition. A group supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank has threatened to bring down the government if Netanyahu pursues the troop withdrawals.

David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Netanyahu, said he is confident the prime minister will come up with a plan that satisfies his coalition partners.

He told Reuters: "There hasn't been a week since Netanyahu came to power that both his political demise and the political demise of the government have not been predicted."

On the matter of a meeting with Clinton, Bar-Illan said Israel considers a meeting to be "for the advancement of the peace process" and not "a gift or reward or something we should pay for."

Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to meet with Clinton during his trip to the United States last week. But the president said he didn't have room in his schedule, even though he and Netanyahu bTC were in Los Angeles on the same day.

The White House offered two possible dates for a meeting in the coming week, but Netanyahu had previous engagements that had been publicized, including a Dec. 4 meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Bar-Illan said a meeting may still occur. "If the [Clinton] administration felt it is in its interest and in the interest of the peace process, it will keep this kind of meeting and will make a date for it. We assume that it will," he said.

In Washington, officials continued to insist that Clinton is not ducking Netanyahu and intends to see him soon. "The meeting will happen: The president will meet with Mr. Netanyahu," said Eric Rubin, an official of the president's National Security Council. "The question is when that can be arranged, and that is something we are working on."

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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