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Arafat accuses Netanyahu of prolonging crisis

Yasser Arafat
In this story:
May 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:26 p.m. EDT (2226 GMT)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday of intentionally prolonging the peacemaking crisis.

Arafat's comments about the Israeli leader came after Netanyahu rejected a U.S. proposal for Israel to hand over another 13 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians in exchange for stronger moves against Muslim militants.

Israel has offered a nine percent pullback, saying the U.S. proposal would threaten its security.

"It is clear Netanyahu is escalating in the direction against agreements and is trying to create a crisis," Arafat told reporters in the self-ruled town of Bethlehem.

On Monday, Netanyahu returned to Israel after a U.S. visit that included talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The talks ended without a solution to the 14-month deadlock in peacemaking.

Arafat met with Albright in London Monday, and U.S. and Palestinian officials said there was no breakthrough at that meeting.

Arafat on U.S. commitment

Arafat said the U.S. has assured him of Washington's commitment to its proposal for Israel to hand over 13 percent of the West Bank.

"They have officially informed us ... that they are committed fully to what they have told me regarding the American initiative, which has not been accepted so far by Netanyahu," Arafat told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday.

He said Albright conveyed to him President Bill Clinton's commitment to the proposal in a conversation just after midnight Monday.

The Palestinian leader said Albright told him that the United States "would not let you down" and thanked him for his efforts to safeguard the peace process.

Arafat also thanked U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for comments she made in early May supporting the creation of a Palestinian state.

Intentions for statehood

Arafat reiterated that he intends to declare statehood in May 1999 on the fifth anniversary of the start of Palestinian self-rule.

"My people don't want more than other people. We don't want war or explosions. We want land and a political future and national independence in the framework of a comprehensive, lasting and secure peace -- to build a future without occupation," he said.

In Bethlehem to launch a Peace Technology Fund for investments in Palestinian-Israeli projects, Arafat received support from former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who lost power to Netanyahu in May 1996 elections.

"As an Israeli father and grandfather, I am convinced that to remain a Jewish state, Israel needs a Palestinian state and we have to say it clearly and do it right away," Peres said.

Netanyahu has urged Arafat not to declare a state unilaterally, saying Israel would take measures of its own -- a statement seen as a veiled threat to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Security Council condemns violence

On another front, the U.N. Security Council Tuesday deplored the recent outbreak of violence in Gaza and the West Bank involving Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops. The council urged maximum restraint and expressed support for the Middle East peace process.

Referring to clashes that erupted last Thursday between Israeli troops and Palestinians protesting against the 50th anniversary of Israel's establishment, council president Njuguna Mahugu of Kenya said: "The Security Council deplores the outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza which resulted in several deaths and many injuries. It extends its condolences to the families of the victims."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, noting that he conferred with Netanyahu at U.N. headquarters last Friday, said he offered the message "that we really should try and move forward on the Palestinian front."

"What is important now is that we pursue the efforts that are being made to break the impasse and to move the peace process forward," Annan said, adding that it will require "compromises and flexibility on all sides."

Reuters contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace
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