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Netanyahu Defends Policies As Negotiators Discuss Hebron

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he will propose a resumption of the final-status negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as the two sides finalize details of the Israel Defense Force redeployment from Hebron.

In an address peppered with heckling from opposition members, Netanyahu spoke Monday about the peace process during the opening of the 14th Knesset’s winter session.

Netanyahu’s address came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed talks after his meeting last week in Washington with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat.

The premier told legislators that he believed that there was a wide national consensus for the Likud-led government’s positions regarding the implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

Netanyahu also spoke of the recent armed clashes in the territories, when Palestinian police joined stone-throwing protesters in confrontations with the IDF.

Fifteen Israeli soldiers and 60 Palestinians died as a result of the Sept. 25- 27 clashes.

“The most important lesson from the recent events is that the violations must stop,” Netanyahu said. “There is only one option for peace. If the Palestinians are really interested in discussions at the negotiating table, they must abandon the options of incitement, violence and war.”

The prime minister pointed an accusing finger at the previous Labor government for embarking on what he described as a misguided peace policy.

Taking the podium after Netanyahu, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres lashed into the Israeli premier.

“Listen to me, I speak from my experience,” Peres said. “You talk about mutuality? But all you offer is one-sidedness. You demand that the [Palestinians] give you everything, but you won’t give anything.”

The Labor Party leader accused Netanyahu of using the security issue as an excuse not to implement the Hebron redeployment.

Peres also accused Netanyahu of not conferring with security officials before opening a new entrance to a tunnel near the Temple Mount. The opening provided the spark that touched off last month’s violent clashes.

“You didn’t ask the IDF or the security establishment,” Peres said. If there was nothing to be concerned about, he added, “why did you open it under cover of darkness? Why not call a news conference?”

Peres said Netanyahu’s actions had also cost the country goodwill in the international community, including the United States.

On Monday, Israeli and Palestinian officials began tackling the focal point of their negotiations, the Hebron redeployment, after a ceremonial first round of talks the evening before that were devoted mostly to procedural matters.

At the Sunday session, the two sides agreed to form three subcommittees to deal with Hebron, security issues and economic issues.

The Hebron negotiations are expected to be particularly delicate, given the Israeli call for increased security for Hebron’s 450 Jewish settlers and Palestinian demands that the two sides not renegotiate an already signed agreement.

As the negotiations got under way, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrapped up a brief shuttle mission to the region, during which he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Christopher said he believed that it was possible for Israel’s security needs to be met within the framework of the existing accords.

“The United States places great emphasis on the statements of both the prime minister and foreign minister that they do not intend to modify or rescind the existing agreements, but move to implement them,” he said at a joint news conference after talks with Foreign Minister David Levy.

Levy told reporters that all the blockades Israel had imposed on West Bank towns after the violence would be lifted shortly.

Israel lifted Monday its blockades of Kalkilya and Tulkarm. Some 600 Palestinians also showed up for work at the reopened Erez industrial zone.

But Israeli security sources reportedly turned down a Palestinian request to renew joint patrols.

The sources said the Palestinian Authority had not yet taken any steps against those of its police officers who had opened fire on Israeli forces.

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