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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       June 4, 1996 V4, #101
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Netanyahu Readies Coalition

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu had one of his senior aides make contact with the Palestinian Authority Monday. The process of building the coalition which will be Israel's next government has begun in earnest, aiming for the new parliament's first meeting June 17.

Netanyahu says he asked his foreign policy adviser, Dore Gold, to contact senior Palestinian official Mahmoud Abbas to tell him formal contacts will begin shortly after the new government is formed. The prime minister-elect also told his parliament faction he had spoken to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein to tell them he wants to meet with them shortly after he takes office.

Palestinians and Arab states have expressed concern about Netanyahu's plans to move more slowly on the Middle East peace process, and to put a greater emphasis on Israeli security.

Concern is particularly high in the West Bank city of Hebron, the only Palestinian city Israel still occupies. The local mayor expressed anger at the decision by outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres not to remove Israeli troops from most of the city, as promised, and to leave the decision to Netanyahu. One group of youths threw stones at an Israeli army patrol Monday, when it stopped a Palestinian car for inspection.

The Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, indicated he will try to make the best of the new Israeli government, while repeating one of his goals which Netanyahu says he will never allow to happen.

"We are respecting the choice, the democratic choice, of the Israeli people. We are looking that the final negotiations will lead for the independent Palestinian state."

The US Ambassador to Israel indicated Monday that the United States will urge Netanyahu to fulfill commitments made by the current government, which would include the Hebron withdrawal.

Ambassador Martin Indyk told Israel Radio he understands Netanyahu will tailor implementation to his view of Israeli security concerns. But the ambassador said the United States wants to work with the new prime minister to see that the accords are fulfilled. US officials have said they expect Netanyahu to visit the United States shortly after he takes office. Meanwhile, Netanyahu began the work of forming a new government by meeting with Israel's president in the morning and addressing his new parliament faction in the afternoon. It is there, within his own party's senior leaders, where analysts say Netanyahu will face his first challenge.

Powerful hardliners such as former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon are angling for senior cabinet posts. But Netanyahu is expected to leave open the possibility of adopting more moderate policies by relegating them to secondary ministries, while soothing them with a promise of input into security policy.

Sharon has warned that if he is not given the Treasury or the Security portfolios in the new Cabinet, he will not serve in the Government, and may even retire from politics. Netanyahu is reportedly hesitating to appoint him as Minister of Finance for fear that such appointment would harm Israel's international financial relations.

The three parties representing religious Jews, which will hold 23 seats in the new parliament, agreed to present a joint position to Netanyahu in coalition talks. Officials of his Likud Party met with the religious party leaders and other potential coalition partners at the parliament building Monday. One of the religious party leaders says they do not want to make life difficult for Netanyahu. But they believe they deserve a lot after their supporters helped him gain his narrow victory.

Assad: Resuming Talks is Out of the Question

By Jessica Jones (VOA-Cairo)

Syrian President Hafez Assad says he refuses to continue peace negotiations with Israel until he knows more about the new Israeli government. The Syrian president says the peace process is not going in a positive direction.

He told a joint news conference held with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo that resuming peace negotiations is out of the question now. "Things are not going in a positive way," he said. "We have to be fully alert and on guard."

It was the first public statement by Assad since Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Israel's prime minister. The Syrian leader held talks with Mubarak about the future of the Middle East peace process.

Both leaders urged caution and said Arab countries should unite to deal with the new Israeli government. But they also said Arabs should not jump to conclusions about the new Israeli leadership that is often described as conservative if not hardline.

"If the Israelis want peace," Mubarak said, "we are ready."

The talks are part of a series of high level meetings between Arab leaders. They are concerned that Netanyahu's victory means difficult negotiations in the future, and no territorial concessions to the Palestinians and Syria.

Assad demands the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, as part of a peace treaty. Netanyahu has promised not to give up the Heights. He says it is too important to Israel's security.

Assad's visit to Cairo comes one day after meeting with Lebanese President Elias Hrawi in Syria. On Wednesday, Mubarak, Jordan's King Hussein and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat will meet for talks in Jordan.

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