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S P E C I A L Struggle for Peace

Netanyahu unable to stave off U.S. peace initiative

Netanyahu
Netanyahu characterized the Oslo accords as "a deal for nothing"  

'Only Israel' will make the decisions

In this story:

March 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Pressured by impending U.S. plans to announce a new Mideast peace initiative, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that "only Israel" will make the decisions regarding its security.

After failing to persuade the United States to shelve its new initiative --- which sources say could come as early as next week -- Netanyahu acknowledged the United States' role, but added "one thing is clear: it is Israel who will decide its security needs, and only Israel can do this."

Diplomatic sources say Netanyahu has privately told the Clinton administration that he is opposed to its new initiative, which would ask Israel to give 13 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians during a three-month period.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has also demanded that Israel freeze construction on Jewish settlements and housing projects in the West Bank and on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

vxtreme Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers reports

The United States reportedly wants "credible and significant" troop withdrawals by Israel in return for greater efforts by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop attacks on Israel by Islamic militants.

Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, says Albright will invite Netanyahu and Arafat to separate meetings in Europe where she will explain the plan and try to get them to accept it before going public with it.

The newspaper said the United States could go public with the proposal next week.

'A very reasonable possibility'

Netanyahu said he was "not aware of an American plan as such. I'm aware of American ideas, and we're always eager to exchange ideas with the United States about advancing the process," he said.

"As far as the extent of the territories ... that is something of course that remains to be seen," he said. "But we have charted out what I think is a very reasonable possibility, one that will give the Palestinians additional land provided they live up to their commitments to us."

Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for trade and industry, was in Washington Thursday, reportedly appealing to Albright to keep from making the proposal public.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Netanyahu of sending envoys to Washington "to obstruct the U.S. initiative."

"This is something that Netanyahu has been trying to do for a while, with both the European and American efforts," Erekat said. "He has chosen settlement and the destruction of the foundation of the peace accords."

He added, "I think he's chosen to keep the territory rather than to maintain the peace, and I think he's now just looking for excuses to blame it on Palestinians."

Erekat said any U.S. proposal must include the three further withdrawals from the West Bank promised in the Israel-Palestinian accords.

Netanyahu and Clinton
Netanyahu and Clinton  

Also pressured by Israeli cabinet

Netanyahu's response was that the Oslo peace accords have become "a deal for nothing. We want land for something, and we insist that the Palestinians carry out their obligations to fight terrorism."

Netanyahu's right-wing cabinet has warned him not to give more than 10 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, and Israeli cabinet ministers say he has offered 9 percent.

His dilemma is that if he offers more, he will run afoul of his cabinet, whose support he needs to keep his governing coalition together. But if he offers only 9 or 10 percent, he risks alienating the U.S. administration.

Adding further fuel to the fire Thursday, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert accused Netanyahu's government of quietly freezing construction on disputed land on the outskirts of Jerusalem, apparently to appease the Americans.

Olmert said Netanyahu has postponed distributing bids to building contractors since infrastructure for a Jewish housing project on the site was completed in December.

"I think there was a decision to freeze it," said Olmert, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party and one of the staunchest supporters of the project. Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners have threatened to leave the government unless the construction proceeds.

Spokesman denies freeze on project

Netanyahu's senior adviser, David Bar-Illan, denied there was any decision to freeze construction. "The delay in issuing (bids) is purely bureaucratic and has nothing to do with any political pressures," he said.

The construction site, known to Israelis as Har Homa and Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, was in the news earlier this week when British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook met a Palestinian lawmaker near the construction.

The visit infuriated Israeli leaders, who viewed the tour as a direct challenge to Israel's claim of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

The site is part of land captured from the Arabs in the 1967 war. The area is also claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital.

Israel began work on the project last year, triggering suicide bombings by Islamic militants and violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Palestinians that brought peace negotiations to a standstill.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.


Struggle For Peace
 
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