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>Israel Faxx
>PD Jan. 9, 1995, V3, #5

Top Syrian Muslim Leader: Peace with Israel is Permissible

A senior Syrian Muslim leader, Mohammed Said Ramadan el-Bouthi, says a future peace agreement between Syria and Israel is permissible. El-Bouthi was quoted in the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

Senior officials in Jerusalem said last week that the statement is important, adding that it is undoubtedly part of Damascus' effort to prepare the Syrian public for a possible peace treaty with Israel.

U.S. Defense Secretary Arrives

By Patricia Golan (Jerusalem)

US Secretary of Defense William Perry has arrived in Israel for top level talks, particularly on the issue of nuclear proliferation in the region. Perry flew to Israel from Egypt, where he warned that if countries in the Middle East do not curb the spread of atomic weapons, they will face blackmail by what he termed rogue nations or terrorists.

The renewal of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is due to be signed in April. Several Arab countries, led by Egypt, say they will not sign again unless Israel also signs. Israel -- widely assumed to have nuclear arms -- has refused to sign the treaty as long as it faces a potential nuclear threat from enemies such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Israel maintains that many countries that signed the treaty have developed nuclear weapons anyway.

Perry is expected to discuss the possibility of deploying American troops on the Golan Heights as an observer force if there is an agreement between Israel and Syria on the contested territory.

Today, Perry flies to northern Israel where he'll view the Golan Heights from a helicopter, and be briefed at a landing site opposite the Heights. US policy prohibits American officials from visiting politically disputed areas.

Secret Peres-Arafat Meeting this Morning

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat have held a hastily arranged 5 a.m. (EST) meeting at the Israel-Gaza border.

The next high-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting was supposed to be a summit between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, perhaps next week. But this additional Peres-Arafat meeting has been added to the schedule.
Talks on expanding Palestinian autonomy and withdrawing Israeli troops from more of the West Bank have been bogged down. Peres met with senior Arafat aide Nabil Shaath last week, with little apparent progress, amid continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Shek says today's meeting was scheduled because Peres is leaving the region for a 10-day trip and he wanted to go over some issues with Arafat before he leaves.

"I really can't tell you what specifically will be on the agenda...except in general terms that this is still about the second stage of the implementation of the agreement with the Palestinians."

Shek also disputes reports that the talks are deadlocked. He says the substance is being closely held by the officials involved, and he says that is a good sign.

Israel Denies It Sold U.S. Technology to China

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Israel categorically denied news reports that it transferred US military technology to China to help with a new Chinese jet fighter. IDF spokesman Oded Ben Ami says any technology or equipment which required US approval was not transferred to China.

Ben Ami was responding to US news reports that Israel had included US technology in a package of assistance given or sold to China for use in development of a new jet fighter. The technology is believed to be at least seven years old, but under US aid rules, transferring it to another country would require US approval.

"What I'm saying is that, number one, we did not transfer any American technology or American components to China. Number two, in the past, and we are ready to do it in the future as well, we are going to answer all US Administration questions in regard to transfer of technology to a third party."

Israel receives almost $2 billion worth of US military aid every year and it is very sensitive to suggestions that it violates the terms of that aid. There have been several such allegations in the past. All were denied by Israel, and after investigations, the United States has never imposed any punishment.

Time Says If Election Were Held Now, Labor Would Lose

A poll secretly commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's ruling Labor Party has found that his government would be trounced were general elections held now, Labor and other government sources have told Time Magazine.

According to the poll, Labor's share of the 120-seat Knesset would shrink from 44 seats to only 27. The opposition Likud Party, on the other hand, would leap from 32 seats to 47. "There is a great deal of alarm in the party," one Labor official admits.

The clandestine poll, unlike far more optimistic recent public surveys, had an unusually large sample size of 10,000 respondents. Time's Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer says Laborites expected a popularity bubble after Israel's new peace treaty with Jordan, the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and an optimistic economic outlook. Instead, she says, public opinion is dwelling on drawn-out negotiations with Syria, growing tension with an old ally, Egypt, and failures of the peace process with the PLO While there is still time for Labor to recover before the scheduled 1996 elections.

Beyer says "party members fear the polls reflect a to-the-dogs reality about the current regime."

Rabin Reacts Sharply to Time Poll

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

A controversial report of a sharp decline in their popularity has Israeli leaders promising changes, but also renewing their commitment to the peace process.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin says he does not pay much attention to public opinion polls. Like many politicians in power throughout the world, he says the only poll that counts is the one taken on Election Day. And he says he must be free to make unpopular decisions between elections, and then try to convince voters he was right when the time comes.

But a particularly unfavorable public opinion poll prompted the prime minister to summon Israeli political reporters to his office last Thursday. The poll reportedly was conducted by the prime minister's Labor Party and its alleged results were published by Time magazine. The magazine says the poll indicates that if an election were held now, Labor would lose by 10 percentage points to its conservative rival, the Likud.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Rabin as calling the report "an outright lie," and saying his party conducted no such poll and has no such statistics. But he acknowledged support for his party is declining. On Friday, a newspaper affiliated with the Labor Party (Davar) published a poll which also showed Labor losing if elections were held now, but by a smaller margin.

Rabin says changes are needed -- but not in policies, only in the functioning of the party and the government. Rabin pledged he will continue to pursue what he called "peace, security and changing national priorities." That statement appeared to be aimed at easing any concern that a decline in public support might affect the government's commitment to the peace process.

Many Israelis are worried about continuing Palestinian terrorism as the government makes plans to expand the autonomous areas, and therefore, many fear, the potential operations base for the terrorists. But the government says expanding autonomy will ease Palestinian dissatisfaction and reduce terrorism.

Labor's other top leader, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, also renewed his commitment to the peace process, speaking before the report of the poll results was widely known. He said the government will continue to do what it believes is right, even if it stands alone.

But Peres also acknowledged that political realities will soon begin to play a larger role in the formation of the government's policies. Elections are scheduled for November of 1996, and a year from now Israeli politicians will already be enmeshed in a full-fledged campaign. Peres says that will not be a good time for making unpopular decisions.

But he and other Israeli officials say that does not mean they want to slow down the peace process. On the contrary, they say the political calendar calls for speeding up the process now, while they can afford to endure some public dissatisfaction.

Davar's editorial said that "there is a large measure of parochialism in kowtowing to the American media, as if what is whispered on Hayarkon Street is not so worrisome." The paper notes that "Rabin is promising 'difficult decisions' this week," but adds that "up until now, he has only partially carried out such promises."

The editors believe that "Rabin cannot overlook the increasing expressions of rebelliousness from within the Labor Knesset faction and the government, because his restraint will encourage constant blackmail, and will be of no benefit on crucial votes."

The paper declares that "Rabin does not need to fight against Time, but against the time that is slipping between his fingers. He must clearly strive for a secure peace with Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians, lest the political infrastructure -- that has enabled him to take the partial and hesitant steps that he has taken up until now -- crumble beneath his feet."

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