Meetings for peace in the Middle East move forward

WASHINGTON (AP) — Yasser Arafat demanded on Thursday that Israel turn over 60 percent more of the West Bank as President Clinton moved to set up a U.S.-run meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader.
After the first of two meetings at the White House, Arafat also insisted the Palestine National Council had followed through on a promise to nullify calls for Israel’s destruction. He said he had presented a letter to Clinton to bolster that statement.
Still, Clinton urged Arafat to do more to stop terrorism against Israel. “Thwarting terrorism has been at the top of the list of his concerns,” said spokesman Mike McCurry of Clinton’s Middle East agenda.
Arafat called the first meeting encouraging. He told reporters that Netanyahu had distorted the Palestinian record on terrorism.
Sitting down with Arafat two days after a similar session with Netanyahu, Clinton said, “I’m convinced we can make some progress.”
Under the proposal for a three-way meeting, Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright would mediate between Netanyahu and Arafat at a still-to-be-determined site in Europe, hoping to close a deal based on a large Israeli pullback on the West Bank, in phases linked to Palestinian moves against terrorism.
She already has insisted on a sizable Israeli withdrawal and also called for a freeze on building new homes for Jews on the West Bank or in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
Arafat told reporters in the White House driveway that Palestinians were entitled to 60 percent more of the West Bank under agreements with Israel. That would be in addition to the 27 percent Israel already has turned over, along with Gaza.
He said he had turned over to Clinton a letter specifying steps taken by the Palestine National Council to annul calls for Israel’s destruction. Arafat asserted that Netanyahu had blocked implementation of a security measure approved by the Central Intelligence Agency.
“I hope that Mr. Netanyahu will understand that peace is not only a Palestinian need. It’s an Israeli need, it’s a Palestinian need, it’s an Arab need, it’s an international need,” Arafat said. “And I hope that Mr. Netanyahu will turn his words to deeds and comply with the agreements.”
A senior Arafat aide, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinian leader registered his objections to Netanyahu’s characterization of Palestinian jails as a “revolving door” for terrorists and told the president “we’re willing to go the extra step” to fight terrorism “as long as the Palestinian goal is not destroyed and that is to have an independent state.”
Erekat said Clinton did not present any American plan for an Israeli pullback. “We haven’t seen any (new) ideas,” he said.
Bringing the two leaders together, with Allbright directing their discussions, would step up U.S. involvement in the dispute between Israel and the Palestine Authority. Arrangements are being discussed in hopes for a February meeting.
Allbright, who made one trip to the Middle East last year and said she would not go back just to “tread water,” met twice separately in Europe with Netanyahu and Arafat.
Arafat came to Washington saying he was “not asking for the moon.”
“I am asking for what was signed at the White House,” Arafat said before calling on Clinton. Referring to an interim agreement he reached with Israel in 1995, Arafat is insisting on a big pullback of Israeli forces — 60 percent, he told reporters in the White House driveway.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, said getting more territory depends on the Palestinians taking tougher measures against terrorists and the Palestine National Council publicly annulling calls for Israel’s destruction.