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Clinton seeks to save accord President reassures Israelis, decries Palestinian violence


JERUSALEM -- President Bill Clinton had some advice for both sides in the frayed Middle East peace process yesterday.

He told the Palestinians they must "work harder" to uphold their end of the deal, and he urged the Israelis to remain on the road to peace because there is no alternative to a secure future.

The president, on a three-day mission to salvage the stalled Israeli-Palestinian agreement he worked so hard to bring about in Maryland in October, spent his first full day in Israel assuring the Jewish state of America's enduring commitment to its security and applauding its efforts to pursue peace despite the %o difficulties.

"A lasting peace properly achieved is the best way to safeguard Israel's security over the long run," Clinton said after a work session with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The land-for-security deal that Clinton helped negotiate at the Wye River Plantation is on hold. Netanyahu suspended Israel's participation in the process last week, citing repeated violations of the accord by the Palestinians.

His decision came during a week of violent clashes between stone-throwing Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers -- the worst violence in months -- that left four Palestinians dead and dozens wounded,including some Israeli soldiers.

The clashes erupted over Israel's refusal to release Palestinian prisoners who "have blood on their hands" or are members of Hamas, the militant Islamic group.

Although the United States confirmed that Israel's decision complied with the Wye River Memorandum, the Palestinian street protests persisted. And Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appears to have done nothing to stop them.

Clinton agreed two months ago to come to Israel and the Palestinian territories to usher in the next phase of the Wye River accord. But problems developed and the two sides traded accusations about the other's failure to uphold its end of the deal.

Clinton now finds himself in the position of mediator, trying to restart communication between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Clinton's personal investment in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship has been great. The president greatly admired Yitzhak Rabin, an architect of peace who was assassinated because of it. Clinton visited Rabin's grave yesterday and placed a stone from the Wye River on his monument in the Jewish tradition of mourning.

In his meetings with Clinton yesterday, Netanyahu hammered at the Palestinian violations of the Wye accord. He cited their campaign of incitement, failure to curb violence and repeated pronouncements to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state in May and make East Jerusalem its capital.

Clinton acknowledged that Israel has met its commitments under the first phase of Wye -- a troop pullback from the West Bank, allowing the Palestinians to open an airport in Gaza, and the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners.

"Have the Palestinians fulfilled all their commitments? They certainly could be doing better to pre-empt violent demonstrations in the street," the president said at a news conference after his meeting with Netanyahu.

In other areas, Clinton said, Palestinians have made progress in meeting their commitments, including increasing security cooperation with the Israelis, combating terrorism and taking steps to convene the Palestine National Council.

The president recognized the political constraints facing both leaders. Hard-liners in Netanyahu's government are waging a campaign against him because of the Wye agreement. That government faces a vote of confidence Dec. 21.

Arafat faces opposition from militant groups that have opposed the original 1993 peace agreement with the Israelis. The Palestinian people are clamoring for the release of their family members imprisoned in Israel.

But the president asserted that difficult times do not permit inappropriate responses.

"The promise of Wye cannot be fulfilled by violence or by statements or actions which are inconsistent with the whole peace process," Clinton said. "Both sides should adhere to that."

Clinton travels today to the Gaza Strip, the seat of Arafat's Palestinian Authority, to hear the Palestinian side of the equation. He will meet with Arafat, address the Palestine National Council and witness its reaffirmation of a 1996 decision to revoke clauses in its charter that call for the destruction of Israel.

Israel has insisted that the Council take a vote to revoke the offending clauses. Clinton assured Israelis that he would witness the PNC's "commitment to forswear fully, finally and forever, all the provisions in their charter that called for the destruction of Israel." He made that pledge in an evening address to a convention center full of Israeli student leaders, a speech broadcast nationwide.

"I will also make it clear that with rights come responsibilities," the president told the gathering, "reminding people there that violence never was and never can be a legitimate tool; that it would be wrong and utterly self-defeating to resume a struggle that has taken Palestinians from one tragedy to another."

But the president also reminded Israelis that they too must "recognize the validity of this agreement and work to sustain it and all other aspects of the peace process."

"In the remaining work to be done, the idea of peace and security in the Promised Land must keep hope alive," Clinton told the mostly teen-aged audience at the Jerusalem Convention Center.

Drawing on Israel's achievements in its 50 years, Clinton encouraged the teen-agers to choose peace.

"There are 12 million Jews in the world, driven from their homeland, subject to the Holocaust, subject to centuries of prejudice, and yet here you are. Here you are," the president said to loud, enthusiastic applause. "If you can do this after 4,000 years, you can make this peace. Believe me, you can do it."

On another issue, Clinton promised a prompt decision on whether to free Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel in the mid-1980s. Netanyahu has requested leniency for Pollard, who is serving a life sentence, and a review of the case is to be completed in mid-January.

While Clinton visited President Ezer Weizman at his home yesterday, about 30 demonstrators stood outside and shouted "Free Pollard." Successive U.S. administrations have turned down Israeli requests for Pollard's release.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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