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Home > News & Politics > U.S. >Peres in U.S. to lay groundwork for talks

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Peres in U.S. to lay groundwork for talks
Sharon says Peres in U.S. to prepare ground for future talks

By Matthew E. Berger
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
May 2, 2001

WASHINGTON -- As the pace of diplomatic activity increases in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he sent Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to the United States this week to "create the groundwork for future negotiations."

In Washington on Wednesday, Peres met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and World Bank officials.

On Thursday, he will meet with President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. He also will address the annual banquet of the American Jewish Committee.

Earlier in the week, Peres spoke to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan about Israeli concerns for security along its border with Lebanon and addressed a function of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee in New York.

After meeting with Peres, Powell said Wednesday that Israeli-Palestinian violence needs to decrease, and pledged American support for future peace negotiations.

"This is not the time to do anything but work on getting the violence down, and that is the primary goal of American policy at this moment," Powell said.

Israel has come under pressure to completely cease construction in its West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements in order to win a cease-fire from the Palestinians. The government has agreed not to build any new settlements, but Peres defended Israel's right to expand existing settlements according to the "natural growth" of the population.

"I know there are some feel that we may use it wrongly," he said after the meeting with Powell. "It's not our intention."

Throughout his media tour, Peres has repeated his key points.

"Everything that was agreed should be implemented; things that were not agreed should be negotiated," he reiterated in several speeches. His meaning is that Israel would honor signed agreements with the Palestinians- such as the Hebron accord of 1996 or the 1998 Wye accord-but would not necessarily renew past offers of concessions that the Palestinians rejected.

In addition, Peres said, Israel would demand that the Palestinians uphold their end of the deals.

"I think we have to learn from our own mistakes," he said after his meeting with Powell. "Previously, we put too much attention to the print and too little attention to the deeds. This time, we have to emphasize the implementation, not just the definition of words."

The purpose of Peres' trip was to gauge U.S. reaction to an Egyptian-Jordanian plan, drafted with Palestinian input, to end seven months of Israeli-Palestinian violence and return to the negotiating table.

Israel objects to several parts of the plan, such as the call for a settlement freeze and the fact that specific steps to defuse the situation are not demanded of the Palestinian Authority, as they are of Israel.

Peres said it is now Israel's turn to present its input, but the Palestinians insist the proposal must not be altered.

Speaking Monday via satellite to the Anti-Defamation League's annual leadership meeting, Sharon said a "full cessation of hostility" is necessary before Israel can resume peace talks.

"It should be quiet," Sharon said, reiterating a favorite theme. "This government will not negotiate under pressure of terrorism and violence."

In a briefing with reporters in New York on Tuesday, Peres took a more nuanced view, saying that Israel must negotiate over an Egyptian-Jordanian plan for an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire-and a resumption of peace talks-even while bullets are still flying.

"Clearly we have to talk in order to end fire," he said. "You can not end fire just with fire."

Both Peres and Sharon noted that the plan was produced by Middle East leaders-a contrast from recent years, when the United States served as the main mediator.

If Israel agrees to the plan, negotiations would resume after the cease-fire holds for a still-to-be determined time period.

Peres outlined a host of steps that Israel is taking unilaterally to improve Palestinians' living conditions, including easing restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods and allowing up to 20,000 more Palestinians to work in Israel. In addition, he said, it has presented plans to build a water pipeline to Hebron and resolve a sewage crisis in Nablus, two cities in the West Bank.

However, Peres warned that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is playing with fire by allowing numerous armed groups to operate in Palestinian territory. Arafat says he cannot control the groups; some Israeli analysts say the structure allows Arafat to duck responsibility for attacks.

"Any country that has more than one armed force doesn't have one country," Peres said. The Palestinians "don't stand a chance to run their own affairs unless there will be one armed force. So we tell Arafat he has to take control."

Peres said that even if Arafat's own security forces are participating in terror attacks, it must be without Arafat's knowledge-though many Israeli officials disagree.

Since the violence began last September, Israel has withheld millions of dollars in tax revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority. Peres said Wednesday that "as long as Palestinian policemen, who are on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority, are participating in shooting and bombing, it will be unaccepted by us to supply them with the necessary money to do so."

Even if Arafat doesn't have complete control of the various Palestinian factions, Peres said, there are certain steps he can take immediately to improve the situation. They include taking a firm stand against violence, disciplining those forces on the Palestinian Authority payroll and having P.A. security forces work to stop terror attempts.

However, another visiting Israeli official-Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, of Peres' own Labor Party-took a more cautious tone.

Speaking Wednesday to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York, Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, predicted the violence would continue for at least several more months.

"As long as Arafat refuses to abandon" violent "tactics, I don't see how the present conflict can be ended," Sneh said.

By rejecting former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's generous offers at peace talks over the last year, Peres said, the Palestinians "committed the second greatest mistake in their history," after their rejection of the original U.N. partition plan in 1947.

He cannot explain their mistake, Peres said, but wondered if Barak's offers were so generous that they caused the Palestinians to lose all sense of proportion, believing they could hold out for even more.

However, Peres hinted that the root of the problem is the fact that the Palestinians do not have an independent state, which likely would have been the outcome of the Oslo peace process that unraveled in the last seven months of violence.

"It's not that Oslo is dead," Peres said Tuesday, "but that Oslo was not completed."

The issue of P.A. involvement in violence is emerging as a stumbling block to Arafat's desired invitation to the White House.

"Most of the terror which is carried out against Israel at the present time is done by military or intelligence organizations which are under the direct control of Arafat," Sharon said in his address Monday.

Inviting Arafat to the White House now would only "postpone the peace," Sharon said. Rather, he said, heavy pressure should be placed on Arafat to stop terror-but Israel will not "interfere" in any decision the United States makes in the matter.

(JTA Managing Editor Michael S. Arnold and Staff Writer Michael J. Jordan contributed to this report.)

© JTA Inc., 2001. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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