WASHINGTON (Jul. 9)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will return home this weekend with a firm American pledge of “rock solid” relations between Jerusalem and Washington.
Publicly, President Clinton and Netanyahu heaped praise on each other and pledged to extend the honeymoon that U.S.-Israel relations have enjoyed during the past three years.
But their positive comments could barely mask deep divisions on the peace process once the doors closed to the Oval Office for the leaders’ first meeting since Netanyahu was elected prime minister in late May.
In 2 1/2 hours of White House meetings, Netanyahu presented U.S. officials with a lengthy list of ways Israel believes the Palestine Liberation Organization has been violating the accords it signed with the Jewish state, according to an Israeli official.
The list cited Netanyahu’s belief that the Palestine National Council, meeting April 24 in Gaza, did not amend its covenant, as PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had proclaimed.
Both the previous Israeli government of Shimon Peres and the Clinton administration welcomed at the time the PNC’s action rescinding the sections of the covenant calling for the destruction of Israel.
Netanyahu’s list also included examples of what he termed systematic violations of a commitment the PLO made not to conduct political activity in Jerusalem, according to the Israeli official.
The list also asserted that the Palestinian Authority headed by Arafat has not done enough to crack down on the fundamentalist Hamas movement, which is opposed to the peace process and has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings in Israel earlier this year.
Netanyahu’s list directly contradicts a recent U.S. State Department report on which Clinton based his decision to certify the PLO as being in compliance with the peace accords.
Such certification allows the U.S. to provide $75 million in cash assistance to the Palestinian Authority each year.
But the sharp differences between the new Israeli government and the U.S. administration on PLO compliance threatens to pit Jerusalem against the White House on the crucial issue of continued U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who was scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, has allies on Capitol Hill who share his view that the PLO has not fulfilled the obligations set forth in its accords with Israel.
A second set of documents given to Clinton by Netanyahu detailed Israeli intelligence reports on Syrian support for terrorist groups.
Since his election, Netanyahu has pointed at Damascus as a major source of terrorism, charging that the regime of Hafez Assad supports the fundamentalist Hezbollah group in Lebanon and several Palestinian terror groups that are violently opposed to peace with Israel.
Syria remains on the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
During their joint news conference Tuesday, both Clinton and Netanyahu glossed over differences in policies even when they appeared to be 180 degrees apart.
As Netanyahu pledged to continue a growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Clinton reiterated long-standing U.S. policy that considers settlements an obstacle to peace.
Settlements are “one of the problems” in the peace process, Clinton said.
Netanyahu sidestepped the issue, saying that “we have not yet decided on the precise pattern of our settlement policy.”
Netanyahu used the occasion to take a swipe at the 1993 and 1995 accords signed by the previous Israeli government and the Palestinians.
“We inherited two agreements, Oslo I and Oslo II, not to our liking,” he said, referring to the two peace accords, “but governments keep agreements.”
Netanyahu, with Clinton’s assistance, steered clear of discussing details about such potentially explosive issues as Hebron and peace talks with Syria.
While pledging to uphold past peace agreements, Netanyahu said he is continuing to study the redeployment of Israeli forces from most of Hebron.
Netanyahu refused to say whether he would meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, though he pointed out that lower level officials in his government have met with the Palestinian leader and other officials in the Palestinian administration.
“We will not accept the notion that peace and terrorism can coexist under one roof,” Netanyahu said.
But when it came to the overall U.S.-Israel relationship, both Clinton and Netanyahu promised a “rock solid” future.
“Those who try to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States will not succeed,” Clinton told reporters.
Netanyahu will also bring some concrete prizes back to Israel. For the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Israel will receive real time U.S. satellite intelligence on missiles launched in the Middle East. The system is expected to be up and running by the end of the year, Clinton said.
In addition, the U.S.-Israel counterterrorism group will begin meeting by the end of the month to examine concrete ways the two allies can contribute to each other’s security.
After addressing Congress and meeting with congressional leaders, Netanyahu was scheduled to continue his six-day visit to the United States in New York, where he is scheduled to meet with Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, U.S. business leaders and American Jewish leaders.
Netanyahu continued to back away from a pre-election interview in which he said that within four to eight years Israel should wean itself off of the $1.2 billion in economic aid it receives each year from the United States.
After meeting with Clinton, Netanyahu extended the time frame to perhaps 10 years.
Clinton agreed that now is not “a time to do anything to destabilize” the Middle East by cutting Israel’s aid.