Fate of Mideast talks hanging as Netanyahu meets with Cabinet
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May 5, 1998
Web posted at: 8:14 p.m. EDT (0014 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet with his Cabinet Wednesday for discussions that appear to hold the key to the future of the Mideast peace
Netanyahu, who returned to Israel late Tuesday from London, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, faces a crumbling peace process and a possible rift with the United States if the Cabinet rejects a U.S. peace proposal.
U.S. President Clinton has invited Netanyahu and Palestinian
Authority President Yasser Arafat to Washington next week to
begin talks on a final peace settlement.
But the talks are conditional on the acceptance by the
Israelis of the U.S. plan. The Palestinians have already
accepted it; Israel has not.
"If the issues are resolved," Albright said Tuesday,
"President Clinton is prepared to invite the parties to
launch accelerated final status negotiations."
Albright said the talks would begin Monday, and she made it
clear that there would be no compromises.
"The invitation to the Washington meeting is on the basis of
those ideas," she said, "and watering them down is not in the
Albright made the announcement at a news conference, after
two days of meetings with Netanyahu and Arafat ended without
"We have a strategic opportunity to put the peace process
back on track and we cannot afford to lose it," Albright
Arafat outside 10 Downing Street
'It's not likely to happen'
Talks on a permanent peace settlement have been a top
priority for Netanyahu since he was elected in 1996, vowing
to put Israel's security ahead of the previous Labor
government's commitments to territorial concessions.
But in Washington, White House officials were skeptical that
the Israelis would accept the proposal.
"Based on what we know right now, it is not likely to
happen," said one official speaking on condition of
The U.S. wants Israel to withdraw from an additional 13
percent of the West Bank, beyond the 27 percent it already
has handed over to the Palestinians. The Israelis have said
they are unwilling to release more than 9 percent, although
there have been reports that Netanyahu might go as high as 11
If the Israelis don't agree to the proposal, Albright said,
"We will have to reexamine our approach to the peace
process." She did not specify what the Clinton
administration might do differently, except that it would not
abandon its role as mediator.
"We are not going to walk away from a peace process," she
said. "It's too important to the United States and to our
friends in Israel and the Middle East."
Arafat blames Netanyahu
State Department spokesman James Rubin told CNN, however,
that "This phase where we've been actively mediating might
He said that the president and Albright would "reexamine and
reevaluate" the situation before making a decision. He also
downplayed reports that Albright was frustrated by her
inability to make more progress, especially with Netanyahu.
Rubin said that while the negotiations were intense and
lasted through the night, Albright "is a trained diplomat.
She's very even-tempered. She's doing what she can to get the
peace process back on track."
Arafat was somewhat upbeat after the talks, telling
reporters: "I cannot say that the London talks failed. I have
heard from Madame Albright that there was some progress and
that time is needed."
But upon his arrival in Rabat, Morocco, for a meeting with
King Hassan II on the outcome of the talks, Arafat said,
"Netanyahu has remained in his position which maintains the
deadlock. He is not respecting (the Oslo) peace accords."
European diplomats say that during the talks Netanyahu
demanded stronger Palestinian moves against Islamic
terrorists, and guarantees that the Palestinians would not
declare an independent state.
They said he also insisted that there be no reference to a
"time-out" on Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land, a key
Netanyahu's coalition threatened
"The difficulty arises from a very simple point," Netanyahu
told reporters before returning to Israel. "We cannot
compromise on Israeli security. We have not resolved the
territorial issue of the further redeployment."
Netanyahu faces threats from far-right Israeli lawmakers who
say they will bring down his government if he hands any land
to Arafat's Palestinian Authority. The legislators have the
power to break up his governing coalition.
"So far, so good," said Michael Kleiner, who heads a group of
right-wing legislators. Kleiner praised Netanyahu for
standing his ground "even though he was under heavy
But he added that if Netanyahu agrees even to a 9 percent
withdrawal -- let alone the 13 percent pullback the Americans
have proposed -- "we will topple him."
With his political survival at stake, there is speculation
that Netanyahu would rather defy Washington than his
coalition partners. He apparently is taking a gamble that the
Clinton administration will not seek an open confrontation
At her news conference Tuesday, Albright was careful to
interlace her tough remarks with compliments for Netanyahu,
saying he was "creative and helpful" and that some progress
had been made.
But she dismissed his claim that the American plan endangers
Israel. The American ideas "are fair and balanced ... and do
not threaten Israeli security," she said.
Correspondent Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.