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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 8, 1996 V4, #24
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Christopher to Arafat: Keep Your Promises

By Al Pessin (VOA-Erez Crossing, Gaza)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher has urged the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, to follow last month's elections with other steps toward building a democratic society.

Christopher congratulated Arafat on the elections, in which the Palestinian leader won a landslide victory against token opposition for the post of president, and his party won control of the new Palestinian Council. But Christopher urged Arafat not to stop there.

"Of course, these elections are only one step toward the organization of an entity here. Now the other institutions of an accountable government need to be put in place -- the Palestinian Council needs to be convened, there needs to be established an independent judiciary, so as to ensure respect for law and human rights."

Christopher announced the US will provide $2.7 million to help the Palestinians build their democratic institutions, in addition to millions of dollars in other aid, some of it already delivered. Neither man referred to continuing delays in declaring the official results of the voting for the new council or charges of irregularities in the counting process.

The secretary urged Arafat and the newly-elected council to intensify the fight against terrorism by militant Palestinian groups. He also urged them to fulfill the commitment to amend the Palestinian National Charter to remove several anti-Israel clauses.

Speaking in Arabic, Arafat said the Charter changes are not his decision alone. He noted changes must be made by the Palestinian National Council, which includes the newly-elected members and many from the Palestinian exile community, including some from militant groups.

Under the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, the changes are to be made by mid-April, but some Palestinian officials say that is not likely.

Israel has said if the changes are not made, it will freeze the peace process. Any failure to amend the Charter will also be an embarrassment for Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is expected to call early elections for the end of May.

Christopher Tells About Damascus Trip

By Ron Pemstein (VOA-Tel Aviv)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher has briefed Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres on his talks in Damascus with Syrian President Hafez al Assad. They also discussed a State Department official Christopher left behind in Syria.

Toni Verstandig, an economic expert, remained in Damascus when the secretary of state returned here to brief Peres on his meeting with the Syrian president.

Speaking at the Israeli Defense Ministry alongside the prime minister, Christopher explained what Verstandig's mission was. "Her role there, and the role of her team is to find out from the Syrians what their priorities are, what kind of hopes and aspirations they have."

Israel and Syria have started discussing economic cooperation at the US sponsored negotiations in Maryland that resume Feb. 26. Peres says a political agreement may bring an end to war but an economic understanding can be the beginning of peace.

PLO Executive Committee Appoints Team to Draft New Palestinian Covenant

The PLO's Executive Committee, which convened in the town of el-Arish in the Sinai desert Monday and Tuesday, decided to form a new Palestinian Covenant that would not include sections denying Israel's right to exist.

The responsibility for drafting the new covenant was conferred upon a team of legal experts from the Palestinian National Council and the Palestinian Authority's executive branch. The covenant would be presented to the Executive Committee for approval when it meets in Gaza after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Israel Radio reported a study conducted by Israel's Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria indicates that Arafat has the needed majority in the Palestinian National Council for changing the covenant.

Kiryat Tivon Elects Conservative Jew, Reform Jew to Religious Council

The Kiryat Tivon municipal council has elected the city's former Reform community leader, Gavriel Shavit, and Conservative Rabbi Klil-Shalom Rosenberg to its religious council.

The move came after the High Court of Justice ordered a second election process free of discrimination against Reform and Conservative Jews. The town's rabbis said they would uphold the decision of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, and would instruct the Orthodox representatives on the religious council to resign if the two members-elect were appointed.

Kiryat Tivon's Ashkenazic Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Zilberstein said he would act in accordance with the decision of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, which forbids the inclusion of Reform and Conservative representatives on religious councils. The ruling of the Chief Rabbinate says "any infraction of this unequivocal rule will lead to the resignation of the Orthodox representatives."

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