WASHINGTON (Mar. 26)
Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat must rule out violence if peace talks are to continue, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told delegates of Jewish and Arab American groups at separate State Department meetings this week.
Arafat must give the “red light” to terrorists, Albright said, according to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who attended the private session.
Wednesday’s meeting with about 15 delegates from the umbrella Jewish group came amid heightened tensions that have all but ground Israeli-Palestinian relations to a halt.
It also came as President Clinton dispatched U.S. special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross to meetings with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help salvage the process.
Tensions over the building of a new Jewish housing project in eastern Jerusalem escalated over the past few weeks, culminating in a suicide bomb attack last Friday at a Tel Aviv cafe, in which three Israeli women were killed.
Ross traveled to the region carrying two letters from Clinton, one for Arafat and one for Netanyahu, according to a U.S. official.
The letter for Arafat “demands” the rearrest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, whom the Palestinian Authority has released in recent months, and calls for a clear denunciation of violence, the official said.
Netanyahu’s letter asks for the end of Israeli construction on Har Homa, according to the official.
Both letters suggest serious consideration of immediate final-status talks, an idea put forth by Netanyahu earlier this week and rejected by the Palestinians as a public relations stunt.
In her meeting with Jewish leaders, Albright reiterated the administration’s concern about the release of Palestinian terrorists, saying “We are deeply troubled,” by it, according to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
In fact, on the same day as the Tel Aviv attack, one of those recent releasees, Ibrahim Makadmeh, a leader of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, was quoted as saying at a rally, “Nothing can stop Israel except holy warriors carrying explosives on their bodies.”
AJCommittee planned to publish an ad in Friday’s edition of The New York Times quoting the Hamas leader and asking Arafat: “Which will it be? Peace or Jihad?” “For everyone’s sake, we pray it’s peace,” the ad says.
Meanwhile, Jewish delegates said they expressed concern to Albright about recent administration statements and actions from the administration critical of Israel’s decision to build on Har Homa.
When asked whether U.S. policy has shifted, the secretary responded that the United States’ “commitment to Israel is without parallel,” according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference.
Quoting the secretary of state, he said, “The United States stood by Israel and will continue to stand by Israel.”
Directly following her meeting with Jewish leaders at the State Department, Albright met with a delegation of Arab Americans.
According James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, Albright delivered a similar message on the need for Arafat to halt terrorism.
Zogby also said that the secretary of state referred to the disputed site of construction as a “settlement,” and used its Arabic name, Jabal Abu Ghenaim.
The Arab Americans presented Albright with a joint statement on the peace process that calls on Israel to cease construction at Har Homa and denounces the Israeli government for relegating “the Palestinians to a take it or leave it status.”
The Arabs also called on the United States to step up its role from facilitator to “mediator or arbitrator.”