Arafat tells Clinton he rejects linking Wye deal with final status

JERUSALEM, July 28 (JTA) — Yasser Arafat has rejected a plan by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to link implementation of portions of the Wye agreement with the start of final-status talks. The Palestinian Authority chairman conveyed his opposition to the plan during a telephone conversation Wednesday with President Clinton, according to an Arafat spokesman. The night before, during a meeting with Barak at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Arafat agreed to take two weeks to review the Israeli premier’s plan. It now appears that this waiting period will be a mere formality before Arafat officially notifies Barak of the rejection. In the meantime, both sides are expected to attempt to summon international support for their respective positions. Barak also conferred with Clinton by telephone on Wednesday to review his positions. Barak is expected to visit Moscow next week, when he will likely take up the issue with his Russian hosts. He and Arafat met separately with the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who was visiting the Middle East this week. Barak has repeatedly stressed that Israel would not change the U.S.-brokered land-for-security deal without Arafat’s approval. “We intend to uphold the Wye accord,” Barak said Tuesday. “It is a signed agreement by the government of Israel.” A day later, Cabinet member Haim Ramon said Israel would begin carrying out the second Israeli withdrawal from portions of the West Bank that is called for in the Wye accord by late August or early September. It is the third withdrawal that is problematic for Barak, who has said it could leave Jewish settlements isolated within areas under Palestinian control. He prefers moving directly into the final-status talks, when such issues as the settlements and the borders of the Palestinian entity would be resolved. Arafat, fearing that he has few chips to bargain with in the final-status talks, prefers to have the Wye withdrawals take place first. The first Israeli withdrawal stipulated under the Wye accord, which was signed last October in Washington, was carried out last November, shortly before former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended implementation of the accord, charging that the Palestinian Authority was not living up to its part of the agreement. At the end of Tuesday’s session at Erez, the two leaders described their discussions as “frank” and “candid.” But the session ended with only one agreement: Representatives from each side were scheduled to meet Thursday to begin discussing details related to the Wye accord. During what was their second working meeting since Barak’s election in May, Arafat repeated the Palestinian demand for full implementation of Wye, including further withdrawals from the West Bank; opening of a safe-passage route between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the release of Palestinian prisoners; and the construction of the Gaza seaport. Arafat also called for implementation of economic accords linked to the Oslo process and a freeze on Jewish settlements. He added that the two sides had agreed to form a joint committee regarding the third phase of the further redeployment. Arafat said the Palestinians were ready to fully uphold their commitments under the signed agreements. “We reiterated our full commitment to implement all our obligations pertaining to agreements signed, including our security commitments,” Arafat said. “We will continue with our policy of zero tolerance to violence and terror, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis.” Barak just completed a flurry of diplomatic discussions in Washington, London and Rabat, Morocco, and his pace has only slightly lessened since he returned to Israel after attending the funeral of Moroccan King Hassan. In addition to his talks with Arafat, the Israeli prime minister is scheduled to have a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria on Thursday.

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