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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Sept. 6, 1996 V4, #165
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Israel and the Palestinians

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed for support from the Israeli people to continue peace talks with the Palestinians, which he says will be long and difficult. Netanyahu was speaking after his first meeting with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The meeting Wednesday may signal a resumption of the peace process. But Netanyahu now faces criticism from his own Likud Party.

During the Israeli election campaign in May, the Likud Party ridiculed the way former Prime Minister Shimon Peres had been led by the hand by Arafat at a joint appearance. Netanyahu had long vowed never to meet with Arafat, whom he regarded as a terrorist.

But Wednesday, the two men shook hands coolly across the table at the beginning of their meeting. Pictures of the handshake were splashed across front pages of Israeli and Palestinian newspapers Thursday.

Hand-shaking aside, the brief meeting did not address key outstanding issues, such as Israel's desire to change terms of its promised pullout from Hebron and the Palestinians' demand that Israel ease the six-month closure of their territories.

The word "implementation" of the existing peace agreements was key to the Palestinians, who do not want to reopen negotiations on the Hebron redeployment, or on any other issue already signed with Israel's previous Labor-led government.

Although Netanyahu used the word in his comments at the news conference, he appears to have agreed to deal with the agreement rather than promise to actually carry out all its provisions.

The meeting with Arafat could mean an internal political earthquake for Netanyahu who faces a stormy meeting of the Likud Central Committee. Several key hardliners in his Likud Party are livid that Netanyahu committed himself publicly to the existing peace process. They accuse him of breaking campaign promises and buckling under to US pressure.

Veteran Likud lawmaker, Usi Landau, called the meeting with Arafat a grave mistake. "Now, with this high-level meeting, Israel has legitimized this kind of a process in which we continue our negotiations, but Arafat has gotten off the hook, of being totally obliged to fulfill his past obligations." Political scientist Avraham Diskin says most Israelis are in favor of the overall peace process, including the agreements with the Palestinians, although at the same time, the majority of Jewish Israelis are suspicious of the Palestinian side. Diskin says Netanyahu has not really deviated from Israeli public opinion.

"He definitely reflects, I think, the model position of the Israeli voter, that is to say, continuation of the peace process but in a cautious way, without any free meals and with continuing deep suspicion of Arafat."

In Hebron, Palestinians warn that talk must be translated into facts on the ground. Former PLO official Nabil abu-Zneid says the meeting may have broken the ice but was not much more than a photo session.

"I think, it worries me, smiling on cameras, doing this. Then people say he did, what do you expect you Palestinians, he met your chairman. For me as a Palestinian I want to see the Israelis leaving Hebron. I want to see the settlements stopped. I want to see more discussions on serious issues, which I don't think is going to happen soon."

Wednesday's historic meeting did not answer the long list of Palestinian complaints about Israel's non-compliance with the Israel - PLO accords, nor with Netanyahu's complaints about Palestinian non-compliance.

Still, a taboo has been broken. The meeting and handshakes are seen as vital symbols of both sides commitment to the agreement signed by the previous Labor government. Peace talks are to resume next week. Beyond what was said Wednesday, the meeting itself was the message.

Investigation into Death of Yemenite Baby Requested

A claim was submitted in the Petah Tikva Regional Court, requesting an investigation into the death of Leah Sharabi in 1949. She was the baby daughter of Yemenite immigrants.

Lawyer Rami Tsuberi, representing the Sharabi family, requested that the investigation be carried out as fast as possible, in light of the advanced age of Leah's mother, who is "very anxious to know the true fate of her daughter." This is the first claim of its kind.

Arutz-7 notes that the Special Investigative Commission into the Disappearance of the Yemenite Children has been operating for two years, but it is still not known when it will release its findings.

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