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>Israel Faxx
>PD Dec. 17, 1996, Vol. 4, No. 228

Hebron Talks May Take Place, or Maybe They Won't

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli-Palestinian talks on the long-delayed Israeli withdrawal from Hebron are set to resume, after a telephone summit Sunday night between the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But a member of Arafat's cabinet says there has been no progress on the key issues which have deadlocked the talks for weeks.

The two leaders spoke, partly at the request of US mediators to, in the words of one Palestinian official, "ease the tension." Israeli-Palestinian relations deteriorated last week, with the Hebron talks effectively in recess, when Palestinian militants killed an Israeli woman and her son on the West Bank. Israel responded by giving financial incentives for settlement expansion in the area.

But Palestinian Higher Education Minister and former peace negotiator, Hanan Ashrawi, says the telephone conversation was mainly a forum for mutual reassurance, not substantive talks.

Ashrawi says neither side has changed its positions on key issues, so while the atmosphere improved Sunday night, there is not necessarily any increased chance of an agreement anytime soon.

But Monday, Netanyahu told a committee of the Israeli parliament he does not plan to establish any new settlements in occupied territory until the eventual Israeli-Palestinian border line is established. That is to be done in the next stage of the peace talks, which began under the previous government, but have yet to resume since Netanyahu took office six months ago. The prime minister's statement does not directly affect the Hebron talks, but it could ease Palestinian concerns about Friday's Cabinet decision to facilitate the expansion of existing settlements through financial incentives.

Ashrawi says such issues are important because the Authority wants to be sure Netanyahu will continue to implement the latest peace accord, once a Hebron agreement is reached. But she and other Palestinians are concerned that Netanyahu has no intention of doing that, and Monday she called for more US involvement to force him to stick to the peace process which he opposed for many years before his election.

US officials deny charges of a pro-Israel bias, in spite of the long and close US-Israel relationship. US mediators have been working closely with both sides for months to try to move the Hebron talks forward, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Monday the United States will continue to work "actively and patiently" to keep the peace process going.

Settlements Could Lead to Civil Unrest

By Victor Beattie (VOA-Washington)

A US Middle East analyst warns tensions between Israel and the Palestinian self-rule authority over Israel's plan to boost Jewish settlements is undermining the peace process and could lead to civil unrest. Georgetown University's Dan Bromberg says President Clinton must exert leadership to save the peace process.

Bromberg says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from some members of his Cabinet to expand settlements. He says Netanyahu's political support could erode because neither the peace nor the security promised in his election campaign is being realized.

Bromberg says the United States is at a disadvantage to influence events because its foreign policy team for Clinton's second term is in transition. The analyst says the president must act soon or see his diplomatic efforts to advance peace in the region fail.

"His entire effort to promote Middle East peace is on the verge of collapse and unless he is going to engage his own prestige in defending that effort, and the gains that have been made, the thing is going to collapse."

US officials have called the expansion of Jewish settlements both unhelpful to the peace process and troubling. Following the latest moves clearing the way for Jewish houses in Arab east Jerusalem and the government's tax incentive program for expanding housing in the West Bank, Bromberg says the chance for violence has grown. Barring an agreement, he says there is a possibility escalating civil unrest.

Netanyahu "Chats" with Thousands

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a "chat" session with thousands of internet users Sunday. "This is wonderful," he told reporters. "It's a way to cut through the press" Nearly 3,000 people logged on to the session with Netanyahu at the joint Microsoft-NBC website.

"This gives you a direct contact with thousands of people who can ask you questions, who can read your answers, and there's no intermediaries between you and them," he said. "It's a wonderful thing that will break monopolies of information."

Netanyahu said that Israel is often misrepresented in the media, and "there is no better way I can think of to correct these kinds of misimpressions than to have this kind of contact." MSNBC is planning a chat session with Shimon Peres Wednesday and possibly one with Yasir Arafat in the near future.

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