Clinton, Netanyahu try to jump-start Mideast talks
January 20, 1998
Web posted at: 10:35 a.m. EST (1535 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton was meeting with
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to
discuss key issues holding up the Middle East peace process,
including the delay in additional Israeli troop withdrawals
from the West Bank.
White House sources tell CNN that Clinton will remain firm with Netanyahu as he lays out his views for reviving the peace process as set forth in previous agreements.
By all accounts, Netanyahu is bringing to Clinton a proposal for a modest pullback from the West Bank that likely falls short of the administration's expectations and is far less than what Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat envisions.
Despite those shortcomings, Clinton remained upbeat Monday about the summit. He is to meet separately with Arafat on Thursday.
"I've got high hopes," he said. "I've worked hard on it. I'm committed to making it a success. I'm going to do my part."
Clinton met privately with senior aides and American Jewish leaders Monday. According to one of the participants, there was no attempt to blame Israel for the slowdown in peace talks.
"The president made it very clear to us that his commitment to Israel is unshakable, that he wants the process to move forward and that he expects he can work well with Netanyahu," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Clinton displeased with Netanyahu
The U.S. and Israeli governments have been at odds for several months. The Clinton administration believes Netanyahu has remained too uncompromising about troop withdrawal from the West Bank. Netanyahu has said the United States is pressuring him to take unacceptable risks with Israeli security.
The Clinton administration has shown its displeasure with Netanyahu by stripping his visit of many of the courtesies that typically mark visits by heads of state.
Before Netanyahu left for Washington, a senior Israeli Cabinet minister said the prime minister would tell Clinton that Israel could not give up more than 9 percent of the West Bank in the next pullback.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has called for a substantial pullback, generally understood to be at least 12 percent, to add to the 27 percent of the territory already turned over to the Palestinian Authority.
The 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians were based on the proposition that Israel would trade land to the Arabs for peace.
While the accords left it to Israel to decide the extent of the next pullback, Netanyahu has come under widespread pressure, even from some Jewish groups, to make large territorial concessions.
Netanyahu demands PLO nullify constitution
Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington early Monday, told a wildly enthusiastic Christian group later in the day that "there is no peace with weakness."
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, a top U.S. evangelical leader, keynoted the reception in a crowded hotel ballroom by declaring: "Israel loves America, and that's why I support Israel. I love democracy and Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East."
Netanyahu assured the audience that he intends to preserve what has been achieved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
But he said Israel needs the Palestinians' compliance with pledges they have made, beginning with a promise to nullify a provision in the covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.
"We cannot be asked to sign a second agreement while the first agreement is being violated," he said. "How else can you have peace if your partner has a constitution that calls for your destruction."
The Palestinian parliament-in-exile nullified the destroy-Israel clauses in 1996. Although Israel's Labor government at the time accepted the gesture, Netanyahu says the matter is not settled because the Palestinians did not keep a pledge to write a new constitution.
He told a Jewish group later Monday night that the current Palestinian legislature should publicly declare the clauses null and void.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, say the Israeli government does not want to give back any more land and that its long list of conditions is a pretext to justify further delays. They also accuse Israel of failing to fulfill a long list of commitments agreed in Oslo.