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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       April 2, 1996 V4, #60
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Omani Band Plays 'Hatikvah' as Peres Arrives

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has made the first public visit by an Israeli leader to the Gulf State of Oman, meeting with the sultan for talks on bilateral relations and the Middle East peace process.

Peres met with Sultan Qaboos at the Arabian sea port of Salalah, after receiving a red carpet welcome, complete with an Omani band playing Israel's national anthem. The two leaders held talks shortly afterwards, and, according to an Omani statement, reaffirmed their commitment to what they called a "just, comprehensive, and permanent peace" in the Middle East.

The statement also calls for rapid aid to the Palestinian Autonomy Authority by countries in the region and around the world, and expresses the sultan's "deep concern" about the impact on the Palestinians of Israel's border closure. The closure was imposed Feb. 25, after the first of four suicide bombings by Palestinian militants, which killed 62 people in Israel.

The closure has caused substantial economic difficulty for Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. And the Omani statement quotes Peres as expressing his determination to find ways to ease the situation. A member of the newly-elected Palestinian Council, Hanan Ashrawi, Monday criticized the Peres trip, saying now is not the time for Arab states to be opening their doors to Israel.

According to the statement issued in Salalah, Peres and Qaboos also called for further development of economic and technical cooperation between their countries, and throughout the Middle East. The Peres visit is the second to Oman by an Israeli prime minister. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin mad a then-secret visit to the sultanate in 1994.

Today, Peres is scheduled to make the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to another Gulf state, Qatar. Neither Oman nor Qatar has full diplomatic relations with Israel, but both have trade and low-level diplomatic ties. Both countries hope to take advantage of Israel's demand for liquified natural gas, and to benefit from Israeli agricultural technology.

Peres wants the Middle East peace process to end Israel's isolation in the region, and as this trip indicates that process has begun, to some extent. But in spite of Israel's peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, many Middle Eastern countries continue to delay making direct contacts with the Jewish state. They say they prefer to wait until a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement is reached, including an agreement on the future status of Jerusalem and its Islamic holy places.

Peres will Ask Laborites to OK Referendum

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres says he wants to hold a referendum on any final agreement with the Palestinians, adding a new element to the peace process and to the current Israeli election campaign. The statement, made during Peres' flight to Oman for an official visit, matches the one made by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to hold a referendum on any agreement with Syria.

Peres says he will ask his Labor Party for the authority to call a referendum on the final agreement, for which negotiations are scheduled to begin May 4. Without such a referendum, an agreement on Palestinian statehood, the future of Jerusalem and other sensitive remaining issues, could have been approved by a vote of parliament.

The announcement appears to be connected to the campaign for the May 29 Israeli elections. Public opinion polls indicate most Israeli voters prefer Peres for prime minister. But many are worried he might go too far in making concessions to the Palestinians.

As a result, analysts expect many Israelis to split their ballots, voting for Peres but electing a conservative parliament as a balance. The pledge to put the final decision on key issues in the hands of the people appears to be aimed at easing such concerns, and gaining more parliament seats for his Labor Party.

A referendum plan would likely make negotiations more complicated, with Peres being able to tell Palestinian negotiators he cannot make any concessions Israelis would not support, even if he himself believes some such concessions would be wise.

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