Give Barak time, Mubarak urges

Egypt's chief advises patience as Arafat aide demands results now

July 10, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERICHO, West Bank -- The Palestinians' chief peace negotiator urged Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday to swiftly implement the Wye land-for-security deal to show his commitment to peace and restore confidence in the beleaguered process.

Yesterday, Barak visited Egypt, the first Arab country to recognize Israel, and declared it was time to end "100 years of conflict" in the turbulent region.

He and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are scheduled to meet tomorrow for talks that are expected to signal a revival of the Mideast peace process.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the new prime minister must withdraw Israeli troops from additional West Bank land now, a key component of the Wye peace agreement that was suspended by Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak's predecessor.

"It's time for deeds," Erekat said, referring to Barak's repeated pledges to revive the failing Middle East peace process.

Unlike Erekat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he understood that Barak would need time to move the process forward and gave him a vote of confidence in describing the Israeli prime minister as a "man of his word."

"I have great hopes, but give the man some time, two months, something like this, to make a reshaping, a good estimation of the situation, so as to go straight [and] steadily on the peace process," Mubarak said after meeting Barakin Alexandria, Egypt.

The Palestinians, however, are eager for Barak to act swiftly and decisively to restore trust in the peace process, which languished under Netanyahu.

Barak says he would prefer combining the remaining elements of the Wye agreement with the final-status peace accord that is to be negotiated. But that could mean several more months of waiting for further Israeli pullouts from the West Bank.

Barak's meeting with Arafat is to take place at a crossing between Israel and the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

Erekat said the Palestinians would reject any move by Barak to delay or scrap parts of the Wye peace accords signed in Washington last fall.

The Palestinians will ask for "an immediate and full implementation of the Wye," he said.

That would involve ceding additional West Bank land to the Palestinians, releasing Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli jails, moving ahead with the Gaza port project and approving an economic package that would pump $270 million into the faltering Palestinian economy.

Erekat said the unresolved issues of Wye could be implemented in two weeks.

"I believe time is a precious commodity now," Erekat told a gathering of the Foreign Press Association. "It is the moment of truth now. I don't think we can have any excuse [as we did with the previous government] since we believe the Israeli people voted for peace."

Israel, he said, must stop all activity in the Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- expansion of settlements, confiscation of land, construction of new roads that enable settlers to bypass Palestinian areas.

Erekat maintained that the Palestinians have "carried out almost all of [their] obligations" in the Wye accords negotiated on Maryland's Eastern Shore. And the Americans have been and will continue to be the judge of compliance by both sides, he said.

The issue of settlements is divisive. Netanyahu supported the growth of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Since the defeat of their patron, groups of settlers have taken over new hilltops and staked out new communities without prior government approval in most cases.

When asked about settlements during his Egyptian visit, Barak reiterated that there won't be new settlements and he won't dismantle existing ones.

He said the future of the settlements will be determined in a final round of talks with the Palestinians. Those talks also will determine the future status of Jerusalem, the borders of a new Palestinian entity and the fate of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during the 1948 and 1967 wars in Israel.

"A Palestinian state, [former Foreign Minister] Ariel Sharon said more than a year ago in reality, de facto, there is one already. The question is how we make it neither an enemy nor a threat to Israel," Barak told Israel Channel 2 television yesterday.

Barak's diplomatic push is scheduled to include talks next week with Jordan's King Abdullah II and President Clinton.

Wire services contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/10/99

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