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U.S. official warns of breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian agreements

JERUSALEM, May 19 (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is blaming the Palestinians for the current crisis in the peace process — and the Palestinians are blaming the Americans. “The Palestinian side has begun expecting in the past few years that they would get everything they demanded,” Netanyahu told reporters after appearing Monday before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “But they won’t. We will stand firm on our demands.” Netanyahu’s remarks came on the heels a remark by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel that “the core bargain of Oslo has broken down,” a reference to the Israeli-Palestinian agreements that are commonly known as the Oslo accords. “Terrorism on the one side, and unilateral acts which have created the impression that the final-status issues are being pre-empted on the other, have combined to break this trust,” Martin Indyk said Sunday in an address to the U.S.-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Indyk added that Israel wants security, the Palestinians want self-determination and both sides have to make efforts to understand the needs of the other. Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, blamed the breakdown in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue on the absence of “American pressure to save the peace process.” In a letter to President Clinton last week, Arafat expressed a lack of confidence in U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, and asked for direct intervention from the president or secretary of state. His comments came as Ross concluded a two-week shuttle mission that failed to break the two-month impasse in peace talks. It was Ross’ second mission in a month. Netanyahu, reiterated his attack on what he described as Palestinian non-compliance during the opening of the Knesset’s summer session on Monday. Insisting on Israel’s determination to ensure its security, to continue building in Jerusalem and to move toward the final-status negotiations, Netanyahu said Israel would not capitulate to Palestinian pressure tactics. Netanyahu, who restated his opposition to Palestinian statehood, lashed out at the Labor Party’s decision last week to include a pro-state position, albeit with limited Palestinian sovereignty, in its party platform. For his part, opposition leader Shimon Peres, who opened the Knesset’s general debate after Netanyahu’s speech, sharply accused the prime minister of conducting a policy that destroyed the peace process. “One cannot say that the peace process is frozen. There is no peace process,” Peres said. “The peace you already ruined, the security you didn’t bring,” Peres added, referring to the twin promises of peace and security that Netanyahu had made in last year’s election campaign. Meanwhile, Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, warned that the United States may begin turning its attention away from the Middle East peace process. But this was refuted by the prime minister’s spokesman, Shai Bazak, who told Israel Radio that there was no sign of a change in American policy and that Washington remained as involved as ever in the region. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials have warned of an outbreak of violence if Israeli security forces proceed with plans to demolish structures built by Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel Radio reported Sunday that Israeli security forces and police, under orders from the government, were preparing to demolish some 500 buildings in West Bank areas under sole Israeli control. Israel maintains that the buildings were erected illegally. The report said the security forces were also planning to demolish illegal structures put up in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, located near the West Bank town of Nablus.