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S P E C I A L Struggle for Peace

Defiant Netanyahu puts his faith in 'stubbornness'

Netanyahu
Netanyahu   

In this story:

March 31, 1998
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EST (0310 GMT)

MAALE ADUMIM, West Bank (CNN) - A day after U.S. efforts to revive Mideast peace talks ended in frustration, defiant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the only way Israel can achieve its aims is by standing firm.

"In this process, the chances of success are measured by one thing: the level of our stubbornness," Netanyahu told high school students in Maale Adumim, a West Bank settlement east of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu and Ross
Ross (R) said it was now up to President Clinton to decide whether to continue the talks   

During four meetings with American envoy Dennis Ross, Netanyahu flatly rejected U.S. suggestions that Israel cede 13 percent of the West Bank to Palestinians to restart peace negotiations.

Ross returned to Washington Tuesday without making any apparent progress toward persuading the Israelis to withdraw troops from some of the thousands of acres it confiscated from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War.

But while Ross appeared to have lost patience, U.S. officials were intrigued that Netanyahu had told Ross that he might be willing to discuss another pullback with the Palestinians beyond the one currently at issue.

The remark was enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to say Tuesday that "some progress" had been made in the talks, but not "nearly enough." Albright said she will consult with U.S. President Bill Clinton about what to do next.

'Serious' and 'creative' proposals

Netanyahu, meanwhile, made it clear he doesn't think the talks are dead.

"We didn't send (Ross) home empty-handed and he didn't leave empty-handed," Netanyahu said. "We gave each other some good ideas, what I would call bridging proposals."

While refusing to elaborate, he did say the proposals were "serious" and "creative." and that he thought the U.S. peace initiative would continue.

Netanyahu has said -- and his Cabinet has insisted -- that Israel cannot give up more than 9 percent of the West Bank for security reasons. And they say Israel will not give up any land at all unless the Palestinians do more to fight terror.

Taking a tough tone during the high school speech, Netanyahu said, "What will bring the process forward is that the necessary ground be laid -- that is that the Palestinian side fulfills its commitments.

"We are not suckers," he said, using the Hebrew slang word "freier," which means sucker, or chump. "Israel cannot give and give and not get anything back in return."

Since Israel captured the West Bank, it has confiscated thousands of acres of land to make way for Jewish settlements. In recent years, most expropriations have been for road construction.

More violence on West Bank

Standing before a floor-to-ceiling map of Israel drawn by schoolchildren that includes the West Bank, Netanyahu called Maale Adumim -- the largest settlement in the West Bank -- "part of greater Jerusalem."

"We are putting efforts into the growth of this place," he told the assembled students.

The United States has urged Israel to freeze expansion of settlements, something the Palestinians say must happen before talks on the future of the West Bank can resume.

Meanwhile, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers are again becoming a daily event, indicating that many Palestinians have lost faith in the U.S. initiative and are increasingly frustrated.

Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths clash near the West Bank village of Salfit
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"This visit demonstrates very clearly that Israel continues to call the shots," said Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian minister for higher education. "Israel continues to undermine American credibility and influence in the region and particularly the American role in the peace process. And to hold the process hostage to its own hard-line policies."

Tuesday, Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian students throwing stones near the West Bank town of Salfit outside Nablus to protest what they call Israeli land confiscation. The soldiers fired rubber-coated metal pellets at the students, slightly injuring a 16-year-old.

Arafat optimistic

Some Israelis are concerned that the U.S. may lose patience altogether and withdraw from the talks.

"The risks of disengagement at this point are enormous because the Palestinians and Israelis don't talk to each other any more, and (if) the Americans disengage, the peace process will, in effect, have broken down altogether," says Israeli political analyst Chemi Shalev.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, speaking to reporters in Amsterdam where he was meeting with Dutch officials, agreed that peace negotiations are in "serious trouble."

But he also said he believed that American and European pressure would "push it forward."

Arafat played down Israel's contention that he is not doing enough to crack down on extreme Muslim factions. Arafat told Dutch reporters that both sides had fanatic elements, and noted that it was a Jewish fanatic who killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

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


Struggle For Peace
 
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