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>Israel Faxx
>JN March 5, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 38

Arafat Meets the Press

By Melissa Winkler (VOA-Washington)

Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat says there is no alternative but to continue peace negotiations with Israel, despite the uproar over Israel's decision to build new Jewish housing in Arab east Jerusalem. Arafat made the remarks at the National Press Club during a two day visit to Washington.

Arafat bitterly denounced Israel's decision to build 6,500 new homes in mainly Arab east Jerusalem. Addressing reporters in Washington, he said the construction plans violate commitments by Israel's former Labor government. "It is a settlement, no doubt, and it is illegal. The agreement between me and Mr. Rabin and after that Mr. Peres -- was not one single house to be added to any settlement and no new settlements."

He accused Israel of wanting to build the neighborhood between Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a means of cutting off the Holy City from the Palestinian controlled West Bank. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Arafat also called Israel's decision to build the new Jewish Quarter extremely damaging to the peace process, but said he has no choice but to press on with negotiations. "It is our duty and our job and our target to carry on with the peace process. We have no other alternative."

In spite of his criticism of the Israeli government, Arafat called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a peace partner -- a term he usually reserves for the late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. "I have to respect what (who) the Israelis elected. He is now my partner as Rabin was my partner, as Shimon Peres was my partner. Now my partner is Mr. Netanyahu."

Arafat's two day visit to Washington concludes after meetings with congressional leaders. Today he holds talks at the United Nations.

Netanyahu Travels to Cairo

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Cairo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Cairo today for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. He also plans to meet with Egyptian business leaders to spur bilateral trade. But the latest Israeli decision to expand Jewish housing in east Jerusalem has cast a long shadow over the visit.

Scathing editorials in the Egyptian press this week are blasting Netanyahu for the latest decision to expand Jewish housing in east Jerusalem.

Last weekend, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa labeled the move a violation of the peace process. Mubarak already had warned the Israeli leader by phone last week that such a move at this point could undermine the peace process. He says he will make that point again in his talks with Netanyahu in Cairo.

The problem now is the peace process, Mubarak says. Peace and stability are our concerns. And he warns that without stability there can be no development of the region. The Egyptian leader says Israel's settlement policy complicates negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem. The talks are due to get underway later this month.

This is Netanyahu's second visit to Cairo. The two leaders met here last July. But Mubarak refused to see the Israeli leader again until Israel implemented the long-delayed Hebron agreement for redeploying Israeli troops in the West Bank town.

Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and has played an active mediator role in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Netanyahu's visit to Cairo comes a few days before Mubarak heads to Washington for talks with President Clinton. The future of the peace process figures high on the agenda.

Israeli Withdrawal on Schedule

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will go ahead with the next planned Israeli withdrawal from West Bank land, and will convene a Cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss the issue. The prime minister's comments came after some of his aides had suggested the withdrawal might be delayed. Officials say the required moves will be made by the Friday deadline, or within a few days afterward.

An official who requested anonymity says Thursday's meeting could be a long one, and several ministers might vote against any further withdrawal. But he said he expects the Cabinet to approve the move. And Netanyahu says the withdrawal will be implemented as soon as it is approved.

The official who spoke later says the withdrawal might even be completed Thursday night, but he acknowledges it might not happen until early next week.

The official would not speculate on how big the first withdrawal will be. Press estimates range from six to 10 percent of West Bank land, with reports saying the Palestinians want 20 percent in the first stage.

A senior Israeli official said Tuesday the first of the coming withdrawals will be "much smaller" than newspapers are guessing. Such a small step, or any substantial delay, can be expected to add further to Palestinian anger, already sparked by an east Jerusalem construction plan approved last week.

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