Netanyahu Returns to Israel; Reactions to D.c. Summit Vary

Reactions to this week’s Middle East summit in Washington were mixed as Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu returned home.

Israeli officials hailed the summit as a success and Palestinian officials expressed dismay as the two sides prepared to return to the negotiating table Sunday at the Erez Crossing.

The Israeli redeployment from most of the West Bank town of Hebron and other security issues are to top the agenda of the renewed talks, which are to be mediated by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.

Some officials here said they thought that Netanyahu and President Clinton had a tacit agreement on the date of an Israel Defense Force redeployment in Hebron.

And Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu was believed to have given the Palestinians a document outlining the government’s security principles in general, and on Hebron in particular.

Clinton, who has since expressed disappointment that the negotiators were not able to reach any formal agreement at the summit, convened the Washington meeting to salvage the peace process after it was ravaged by last week’s explosion of violence.

Rioting by Palestinians — touched off when Israel opened a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel alongside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City – - quickly escalated out of control, with Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers exchanging gunfire. By the end of the week, 58 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed.

“The Israeli government’s expectations for the Washington summit was that we would not conclude anything substantive, and that if any such progress is made, it will be around the negotiating table next week,” Moshe Katzav, Israel’s tourism minister, told Israeli media. “In my opinion, Netanyahu successfully attained the objective he set for himself.”

Knesset member Ehud Barak of the Labor Party said Netanyahu had succeeded in buying time, but real success would depend on what actions he takes.

Barak, also a former Israeli foreign minister, added, “Arafat and Netanyahu together maneuvered the peace process to the brink of explosion.”

Palestinian Council member Ziad Abu-Ziad said he was disappointed with the summit’s outcome. “If Prime Minister Netanyahu remains a prisoner to his ideology, there will be violence,” Abu-Ziad said. “He must understand that the government must change its positions for the process to continue.”

Meanwhile, the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained mostly quiet Thursday.

In Hebron, Palestinians threw stones at IDF soldiers when a curfew on the West Bank town was lifted to allow residents to purchase supplies.

One Israeli soldier was lightly hurt by stones near the A-Ram checkpoint north of Jerusalem, and an Israeli was lightly hurt by stones near Halhoul, in the Hebron area.

In addition, the Hamas fundamentalist group issued a statement in Beirut calling on Palestinians to riot and confront Israeli forces after Friday prayers.

In a related development, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai agreed to take steps to ease restrictions in the territories, contingent upon the security situation. He held security consultations in Tel Aviv, saying that he would move tanks farther away from where they had been stationed near Bethlehem.

Israeli security officials, however, remained on high alert.

A senior Israeli official source was quoted as saying that Israel could announce a number of measures Sunday as confidence-building gestures ahead of the talks. These could include allowing the passage of products into the West Bank and Gaza, lifting the closure on the territories after last week’s riots and gradually allowing Palestinians to return to jobs inside Israel, the source said.

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