WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (JTA) — President Clinton shot back at Israel’s prime minister this week for his accusation that the president “humiliated” the entire State of Israel by not meeting with him during a visit last month. “There can be no serious suggestion that the United States is not interested in the peace process or respectful of the people and government of Israel,” Clinton said Tuesday at his end-of-the-year news conference when asked to respond to Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments. After visiting the United States and failing to receive an audience with the president, Netanyahu had publicly accused Clinton of engaging in “unbecoming” conduct. “The entire Jewish state feels humiliated if such action is directed against us,” Netanyahu said on CNN. Clinton vigorously defended his decision not to meet with Netanyahu, citing a series of previous meetings with the premier. “I don’t believe I have ever met with any other world leader five times within an 18-month period,” Clinton said this week. Clinton said he plans to invite Netanyahu to Washington next month for a substantive meeting on the peace process. “I think it is important when the president meets on the peace process that it be a real meeting and that there be some understanding of where we are and where we’re going and what we’re doing together,” Clinton said. He said he was “not suggesting that there is some standard that the government or the prime minister has to meet in order to have a meeting.” The latest public exchange between the two heads of state comes as the United States is stepping up pressure on Israel to move forward with a “credible” proposal for a further withdrawal from the West Bank. Netanyahu was expected to present U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with broad guidelines for an Israeli redeployment during a meeting in Paris on Thursday. In advance of the meeting, the Israeli Cabinet was holding marathon discussions in an effort to define the principles of the further pullback within a permanent-status framework. However, no decision was expected to be made until next week. After her talks with Netanyahu in Paris, Albright was slated to travel to London to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Americans have also pressed the Palestinian Authority to tighten security cooperation with Israel and exert a 100 percent effort to fight terrorism. A senior Israeli official said this week that Netanyahu had targeted mid-January to finalize plans for a permanent-status arrangement with the Palestinians as well as a further redeployment. The official said that following a Cabinet endorsement of such a plan, implementation could take up to five months, contingent upon a Palestinian fulfillment of peace commitments, including a crackdown on Islamic militants and cancellation of the Palestine National Covenant. As the Cabinet debated various proposals, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported this week that the prime minister was leaning towards a security interest map drawn up by the defense establishment, over a more hawkish one submitted by National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon. The paper said that under the proposal by Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, up to one-third of the 144 Jewish settlements in the West Bank would fall outside full Israeli sovereignty. The Prime Minister’s Office has denied that any decision on the scope of the withdrawal or the future of the Jewish settlements has been made. Clinton’s comments, meanwhile, came in the same week that he promised American Jewish leaders to continue to facilitate Israeli-Arab peace talks that enhance Israeli security. Clinton, in a return letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, agreed that the United States and Israel should try to resolve their differences privately. Meanwhile, an Israeli Cabinet minister lashed out at the Clinton administration during a speech to the Conference of Presidents on Tuesday. Limor Livnat, minister of communications, criticized the administration for failing to demand Palestinian compliance with the terms of the Oslo accords, as the administration had promised in assurances to the Israelis as part of January’s Hebron agreement. “I find it appalling that at a watershed period of history, when so many countries have moved toward democracy, the United States should be supporting the evolution of an authoritarian, dictatorial regime,” she said.
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