Arafat, Netanyahu meet at Shore summit Indications of tension in talks dominated by security concerns

October 17, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

QUEENSTOWN -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat held their first one-on-one meeting yesterday at an Eastern Shore summit dominated by Israel's demand for a broad crackdown on Arab violence.

Officials gave no indication of progress in the talks, which opened Thursday. But a testy face-off among spokesmen for Americans, Israelis and Palestinians betrayed tension among the delegations despite the tranquil surroundings of woods, gardens and the Wye River.

The pace of the talks may accelerate tonight with the arrival of Ariel Sharon, the right-wing former general who was recently named Israeli foreign minister. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai is due tomorrow.

"The real negotiation will [occur] when Sharon and Mordechai arrive," said Stephen Cohen, vice chairman of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, who is following the talks.

The two sides already have agreed on an interim 13 percent Israeli pullback from the West Bank, despite reports this week that Israel was balking again.

In return, Israel is demanding a package of security measures that include a crackdown on Islamic extremist organizations, arrests of terrorists and a roundup of weapons. CIA director George Tenet is taking the lead in putting together a package of security measures the two sides might accept.

But Palestinians chafe at the detailed and intrusive Israeli demands. "If each [side] thinks about their own security and not the other's, it's not going to work," complained Khalil Foutah, an official in the Palestinians' Washington office.

Israelis also want Palestinians to prevent actions that incite violence. They complain frequently of schoolchildren being taught to glorify terrorism.

"You cannot monitor speech; nobody can shut people's speech," Foutah responded.

For their part, the Palestinians insist that Israel fulfill its commitment to a subsequent withdrawal before both sides start negotiating the most serious issues blocking a full peace.

U.S. officials want to wrap up an agreement by tomorrow. "We don't want to speculate what would happen after [tomorrow]," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday, but dismissed reports of a U.S. ultimatum. President Clinton is to drop in today.

The summit officially opened yesterday with meetings on four issues that will be part of an agreement: security; safe passage for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank and past Israeli areas; economics; and a Palestinian airport.

Netanyahu invited Arafat to meet privately at River House, the mansion the Israelis are using as their headquarters. After an hour they were joined by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright for a three-way working lunch with Dennis Ross, the U.S. special envoy for the Middle East.

In a sign of how easily nerves can become frayed in dealing with the Middle East, Rubin moved to halt informal briefings for reporters by Israeli and Palestinian spokesmen outside the press center at Chesapeake College.

"Let's just stop," Rubin said, rebuking Palestinian legislator Marwan Kanafani, a spokesman for Arafat, and Aviv Bushinsky, Netanyahu's spokesman, pointedly offering to give both men a ride away from the press center. He maintained there was a gentlemen's agreement designating him as official spokesman for the talks.

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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