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Clinton Faces Tough Challenge to Get Wye Accord Back on Track

December 14, 1998
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President Clinton originally planned to visit Israel and the Palestinian self-rule areas to celebrate the accomplishments of the Wye agreement.

But by the time he arrived in Israel on Saturday night, it was clear to all the parties that his visit would focus on rescuing the accord from the latest welter of Israeli and Palestinian grievances.

The president got a taste of the difficulties facing him when, during a joint news conference Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the two met privately, the premier vowed he would not cede another inch of West Bank land until the Palestinian Authority renounces plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state next May.

Speaking with a somber-faced U.S. president at his side, the premier called the plans a “gross violation of the Oslo and Wye accords.”

Netanyahu also called on the Palestinian Authority to immediately halt its “propaganda” campaign that Israel was reneging on the terms of the Wye accord by refusing to release Palestinians jailed for anti-Israel activities.

Clinton struck a theme of reconciliation during his remarks at the news conference.

“The promise of Wye cannot be fulfilled by violence or by statements or actions which are inconsistent with the whole peace process,” Clinton said. “Both sides should adhere to that.”

Underscoring what he called America’s “unshakable” commitment to Israeli security, Clinton announced he would submit a request to the U.S. Congress for an additional $1.2 billion in aid to help Israel cover the costs of carrying out the West Bank redeployments called for under the Wye accord.

The president said the Palestinian Authority had taken some steps toward fulfilling their commitments under the accord. But at the same time, he added that they “could be doing better to prevent violent demonstrations in the street.”

During the past week, there have been a series of violent clashes in the West Bank between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops over protesters’ demands for the release of Palestinian activists held in Israeli jails.

Palestinian officials have maintained that Israel broke a term of the Wye agreement when the majority of those the Jewish state recently released from prison were common criminals. Israel in turn claimed it was living up to the agreement — a view echoed by some American officials.

Two Palestinians died last Friday in clashes near the West Bank town of Kalkilya, bringing the total number of fatalities during the past week to four.

The Palestinian Authority clamped down on the demonstrations prior to Clinton’s arrival. But the violence continued Sunday, when a 17-year-old female Israeli was moderately wounded after being stabbed in the back outside the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron.

Her assailant, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl, told investigators after she was apprehended that she had acted alone. She added that she decided to attack a Jew after reading from the Koran the previous day.

Prior to Clinton’s visit, Israel carried out the first phase of the redeployment under the Wye accord, transferring an additional 9 percent of West Bank land to Palestinian control.

But Israel said it was suspending further implementation of the Wye agreement pending Palestinian fulfillment of its commitments under the accord.

A key Israeli demand calls for the Palestine National Council to formally vote to nullify the anti-Israel clauses in the Palestinian charter during a meeting Monday that Clinton is scheduled to attend.

Palestinian officials counter that the Wye accord calls only for attendees at the meeting to approve by acclamation a letter that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat sent to Clinton in January, indicating that the clauses were annulled.

Clinton’s planned visit to the Gaza Strip for the meeting has been a source of anger for right-wing Israelis — some Cabinet ministers among them — who claim it will give support to Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Despite the latest crisis in the peace process, Sunday’s news conference was dominated by questions over the impeachment proceedings facing Clinton in Washington.

Clinton said he was “not surprised” that the House Judiciary Committee had approved over the weekend four articles of impeachment against him, adding that he has “no intention of resigning. It’s never crossed my mind.”

At one point, when reporters persisted with questions about the impeachment proceedings, Netanyahu asked them to stay focused on the purpose of Clinton’s trip.

On other issues, Clinton said that he had requested an “unprecedented” review of the case of Jonathan Pollard.

Clinton recently asked his top administration officials to recommend by Jan. 11 whether to free Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for spying on the United States for Israel.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel had sent Pollard on a “mistaken mission.” Admitting that Pollard had done something “bad and inexcusable,” the premier said he had asked Clinton to free him on humanitarian grounds.

After his talks with Netanyahu, Clinton held a meeting with Israeli President Ezer Weizman.

The president is accompanied on the trip by first lady Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea.

On Sunday the Clinton couple visited the grave of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, accompanied by Rabin’s widow, Leah.

They also attended a candle-lighting ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem marking the start of Chanukah.

Chelsea Clinton made visits to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In a similar ecumenical spirit, the president plans to attend a Christmas tree- lighting ceremony in Bethlehem and visit Masada during his stay in the region.

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