Netanyahu appoints Sharon, heads to U.S.


Israeli leader reportedly sets
new terms for meeting Arafat

July 8, 1996
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EDT (1745 GMT)

From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Before leaving on his first visit to the United States as Israel's leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday appointed hardliner Ariel Sharon to a powerful cabinet post. There was also a report that Netanyahu has changed his mind about the circumstances under which he would meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and sons, Yair, 4, and Avner, aged 18 months, Netanyahu departed from Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, witnesses said.

He has previously said he would meet with Arafat only if it's essential to Israel's security. But quoting sources close to the prime minister, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported Netanyahu would tell U.S. President Bill Clinton that he would meet with Arafat after the PLO chief met first with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy. Palestinians have complained about a lack of communication with the new government.

The report also said Netanyahu is expected to propose easing the four-month closure of the West Bank and Gaza regions. Border restrictions have devastated the economy in those Palestinian areas by keeping Palestinian workers out of Israel. Israel imposed the closure after a wave of terror bombings.


Sharon appointment controversial

The appointment of Sharon, the former general who orchestrated Israel's costly 1982 invasion of Lebanon and a Jewish settlement drive in the 1990s, was likely to dismay Arabs and the United States.

Among the responsibilities of the Ministry of National Infrastructure, a post specifically tailored to Sharon, will be the negotiation of water rights, a highly sensitive issue in the Middle East.

The inclusion of Sharon is a quandary for Netanyahu, who rejects the "land for peace" formula of his predecessors while seeking to project a peacemaker image. The peace formula Netanyahu carries to Washington is "peace through strength," the same message that helped him defeat Shimon Peres in the May 29 election. "A weak Israel would not be able to get peace. In fact, it would make a shambles out of peace, which is what has happened."


Before leaving for Washington, Netanyahu said Arabs were being forced to compromise because of his tough stance on Middle East peace. He also said he does not intend to raise the question of the Israel's much-delayed pullout from Hebron, the last West Bank town under Israeli occupation.

"The Middle East conflict is pregnant with a Palestinian state," observed political analyst David Landau, using an analogy to describe the peace agreement consummated by Peres and Arafat. But now, Landau says, it's up to Netanyahu to decide whether to carry the pregnancy to term, or have "an abortion." (247K AIFF or WAV sound)

Arab states and the Palestinians have warned that if Netanyahu makes good on campaign rhetoric opposed to trading land for peace -- the basis of nearly five years of U.S.-driven peace talks -- the Middle East could slide into violence.

Analyst: Visit 'doomed to succeed'

In his talks with Clinton, Netanyahu will also argue that a peace breakthrough with Syria is unlikely while Damascus backs Hezbollah guerrillas battling Israel in southern Lebanon. The Israeli leader will seek to convince Clinton that the United States -- rather than courting Syrian leader Hafez Assad -- should extend its Mideast containment policy against Iran and Iraq to include Syria.


While Clinton unabashedly backed Peres, Netanyahu's visit to Washington is "doomed to succeed," said political analyst David Makovsky. "Clinton is facing re-election in November. Netanyahu wants to show back home that he can manage the relationship with the United States. I expect this to be somewhat a lovefest."

In addition to his talks with Clinton, Netanyahu will address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress during his five-day visit.

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