Israel may hand over land to Palestinians

NEW YORK (AP) — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s push for at least a partial West Bank accord cleared a major hurdle Sunday as Israel largely accepted a U.S. proposal for how much land it will yield to Palestinians.
But Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, said in an interview: “If there’s no security, there is no deal.”
In an interview Sunday with CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s agreement with the United States was “almost complete about the amount of land that we would hand over. It is territory that is uninhabited by Palestinians but is very important for our security.”
Netanyahu said the remaining issue was “to make sure that the land that we hand over to the Palestinians does not become a base for continued terrorist attacks against Israel.”
Gold said Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority must break up terrorist cells on land it already holds on the West Bank and in Gaza and confiscate weapons.
Questioning Arafat’s commitment, Gold, one of Netanyahu’s closest advisers, said Palestinian security officials were quoted in the Palestinian press Thursday as saying they “are protecting” 25 members of Hamas, the militant organization that claims responsibility for bloody attacks in Israel.
Gold said the 25 suspected terrorists had been freed from Palestinian detention.
Arafat, meanwhile, publicly repudiated a Palestinian television program in which schoolchildren were exhorted to prepare for Israel’s overthrow. “This will not recur,” he said in a speech to the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, a private group with many American Jewish members that supports Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
“We live in a moment of truth,” Arafat said, suggesting an agreement with Israel hangs in the balance as Albright and other U.S. mediators continued their efforts to narrow differences over further Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank.
He said the Palestinian Authority had a policy of “zero-tolerance to terror and violence” and pledged to fight terrorism irrespective of the status of negotiations.
On a conciliatory note, Arafat reiterated his aspirations for a Palestinian state, but said he hoped it would be part of an international “celebration” of peace with Israel.
In the past, Arafat has declared his intention to establish a state whatever the outcome of peace talks. Albright and Netanyahu have condemned such “unilateral declarations” on issues that are supposed to be on the agenda for negotiating a final settlement.
On Monday, Arafat is due to address the U.N. General Assembly, where support for the Palestinians is high and Israel is frequently denounced. Albright and Netanyahu are hopeful he will muffle his statehood stance.
On a tough note, Arafat said hopes for peace turned to despair after Netanyahu took office two years ago with “the intention to set the clock backward.”
The Palestinian leader, who was accorded a standing ovation at the beginning and end of his speech, said the peace process was stalled. But he also said “our hopes remain very high.”
Israeli diplomats told The Associated Press, meanwhile, there was agreement that Israel would withdraw from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank — adding to the 27 percent already promised to the Palestinians.
Meir Sheetrit, leader of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud coalition in the Israeli parliament, renewed a call for the elimination of all anti-Israeli references in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s covenant.
He asked, in a speech that followed Arafat’s: “How can you make peace with someone who’s agenda calls for your destruction?”
Touching on the security theme, he said, “We have to be sure, not only by words, but by deeds.”