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NEWS ANALYSIS U.S. backs Israeli halt of talks as Albright talks tough to Arafat

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (JTA) — The United States will back Israel’s suspension of political talks with the Palestinians until they clamp down on terrorism. This was the message U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered in her first speech on the Middle East as America’s top diplomat. “It is simply not possible to address political issues seriously in a climate of intimidation and terror,” Albright said at the National Press Club here Wednesday. At the same time, the policy does not signal smooth sailing for Israel. Albright also hinted that if and when Israeli-Palestinian talks resume, the United States would back the Palestinian demand to halt Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. “The principle of refraining from unhelpful unilateral acts is central to maintaining mutual confidence,” she said. “It is fair to ask: How can you create a credible environment for negotiation when actions are being taken that seem to predetermine the outcome?” But Albright directed the bulk of her hastily arranged policy address at Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority, warning that a total crackdown on terrorists and renewed security cooperation with Israel must come before the United States would support reconvening long- stalled peace talks. “There is no place in the peace process for violence or terror, and there is no room for using security cooperation as leverage in a negotiation,” said Albright, who because of the crisis in the Middle East changed the focus of her planned address from Asia. The political situation has taken on a new urgency in the wake of last week’s suicide bombing in a Jerusalem market that claimed 13 Israeli victims. Already tense relations between Israel and the Palestinians hit rock bottom as the two sides traded vehement rhetoric and cut off virtually all contact. Albright, who stuck to a prepared text read from a Tele-PrompTer, issued her challenge to Arafat in at least seven different ways during her half-hour speech. Sporting a gold pin of what many thought looked like a soaring dove, Albright offered to travel to the Middle East later this month to work at accelerated final-status talks if Arafat makes “a 100 percent effort” against terrorism. In referring to final-status talks, Albright suggested that
it would be easier for the parties to overcome setbacks and avoid distraction if the Interim Agreement is “married” to accelerated final- status talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested moving right to final-status talks, which are supposed to address the issues of borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. In the meantime, U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross is scheduled to travel to Israel this weekend for an open-ended mission aimed at restarting security talks in the short term. Ross’ mission was postponed from last week because of the terrorist attack in Mahane Yehuda, which also wounded 170 people. Unlike his previous shuttles since the peace process became stalemated in March, Ross is believed to be armed this time with some pointed letters from President Clinton and Albright that are aimed at both Israel and the Palestinians. To Israel, the Clinton administration is expected to indicate its concern over further construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. But the administration’s main message is to the Palestinians. “There can be no winks, no double standards, no double meanings and with respect to the imprisonment of terrorists, no revolving doors,” Albright said. “Nor can the level of security cooperation ebb and flow with the ups and downs of negotiations. The Palestinian commitment to fight terror must be constant and absolute. Furthermore, she said, “there is no moral equivalency between suicide bombers and bulldozers, between killing innocent people and building houses.” Albright drew high marks from Jewish officials whom she had briefed during a conference call only hours before her speech. “Every which way that one can say that violence has to be renounced, she said it,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Speaking to reporters on the White House South Lawn immediately after Albright’s speech, President Clinton expressed similar sentiments. “I know that it’s been discouraging for the Palestinian Authority. I know they get frustrated. I know that sometimes Mr. Arafat feels like he’s caught in the middle, between his own population and their discontents and frustration, and his frustrations in dealing with the Israeli government. But none of that can be an excuse for not maintaining security,” Clinton said. When asked if the Palestinians have lived up to their accords with Israel, Clinton said, “I could not say that there has been constant, 100 percent effort” to fight terrorism. Like Albright, Clinton also echoed Arafat’s criticism of Israel’s recent settlement policies, including building at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem. “We don’t think anything should be done which undermines the trust of the parties and violates either the spirit or the letter of the Oslo Accord, and which predetermines the outcome of final settlement issues under Oslo,” Clinton said. “The government of Israel clearly has a responsibility to carry its end of the load, too. This has got to be a two-way street.” Now Israel and the United States are awaiting Arafat’s next move. “At the end of the day, the carrot to Arafat is that if you take terrorism seriously and you bring your concerns about settlements to the negotiating table, you’re going to find the United States sympathetic on that issue,” said Martin Raffel, chairman of the Israel task force of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “That’s not to say that the U.S. will pressure Israel,” Raffel said, but Israel could find itself arguing against both the Palestinians and the United States.