Mideast peace accord hits a new snag Netanyahu links OK by Cabinet to arrests of terrorism suspects

November 04, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM SUN STAFF WRITERS MARK MATTHEWS IN WASHINGTON AND JOSHUA BRILLIANT IN JERUSALEM CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused yesterday to seek approval from his Cabinet of the latest interim Middle East peace agreement until the Palestinians provide a time frame for the arrest of 30 Palestinians suspected of acts of terror against Israelis.

The Palestinians accused the Israeli prime minister of looking for an excuse to renege on implementing the Wye memorandum, a "land-for-security" deal signed Oct. 23 after nine days of arduous negotiations in Maryland. They called for the U.S. sponsors to intervene and save the accord.

The dispute put the future of the Wye agreement in doubt. It delayed for a second time a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet at which Netanyahu was to have sought approval of the pact from his hard-line coalition government.

U.S Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has spoken twice over the past two days with Netanyahu in an apparent effort to iron out problems that have surfaced since the Wye agreement was reached.

Her spokesman, James Rubin, declined to take a position on whether the Palestinians should set a timetable for making the 30 arrests.

"We're discussing clarifications of issues such as that," Rubin said.

The Clinton administration repeated yesterday that it was satisfied with the Palestinian plan to fight terror and increase security.

"In our view, the Palestinians have developed a security work plan in accordance with the Wye agreement," Rubin said.

Netanyahu said yesterday that the security plan was missing a "fundamental element" and canceled the Cabinet meeting.

"There was an agreement at the Wye River summit that the Palestinian Authority would hand the U.S. administration the commitment in writing to arrest and try the 30 wanted terrorists whose extradition Israel has requested over the past four years. This was supposed to be attached to the working paper on the campaign against the terrorist infrastructure. It is not there," David BarIllan, a top aide to Netanyahu, said last night.

"The prime minister will not present an incomplete agreement to the Cabinet for debate and approval."

The commitment is supposed to include a timetable for the arrests, said Bar-Illan.

The Wye agreement requires Israel to give an additional 13 percent of West Bank land to the Palestinians in exchange for a sustained campaign by the Palestinians against terrorism.

Right-wing members of Netanyahu's coalition and the nationalist, religious settler movement have aggressively opposed the plan. They threaten to bring down the government if Netanyahu nTC withdraws Israeli troops from land they consider the biblical heartland of Israel.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, called Netanyahu's demands "shameless."

"The man is inventing things," said Erekat. "We say we will honor the agreement to the letter. The man is looking for excuses not to implement [the agreement] because of his ideology. Again, a man who has 75 percent of the Israeli population saying yes to the Wye accord, and 92 Knesset members, insists to be the prime minister of the 3 percent of the extremists and settlers."

Netanyahu did not sign the accord eagerly, and many skeptics have predicted that he will not implement it. But since his return to Israel, he has been lobbying his Cabinet and members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to approve the plan.

Netanyahu first put off convening the Cabinet until the Palestinians submitted their security plan to the Americans. He also said Israel could not legally proceed without approval from the Cabinet and the Knesset.

Monday, however, he repeated Israel's commitment to withdraw troops by the Nov. 16 deadline set out in the Wye agreement.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv yesterday, the Palestinian security plan provided to the Israelis via Washington includes:

The outlawing of the militant wings of the Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the arrests of their activists.

Confiscation of the groups' funds that are used to support terrorist activities.

Cessation of incitement at mosques and educational and health facilities. Hamas operates a vast network of social services that have been used to recruit members of its military wing.

Commitments to a daily report to the CIA in the area on the Palestinian Authority's anti-terrorist activities and to a weekly meeting of a joint Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. security committee.

Yesterday, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, in an editorial titled "No ploys, please," recounted several incidents that it said raised "the suspicion that the crafty politico within Netanyahu is again threatening to seize control."

The newspaper referred to construction work under way at a proposed Jewish housing development in Ras al-Amud, a neighborhood in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, and the expansion of the Kiryat Arba settlement in the Hebron area.

The newspaper said Israel is "fully justified" in demanding that the Palestinian Authority fulfill its part of the agreement before Israel withdraws troops from the West Bank. But it added that "it is up to Netanyahu to continue to behave like a statesman and not revert to the old ploys."

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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