Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Netanyahu Defends Policies in His Meeting with Clinton

September 10, 1996
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Faced with mounting pressure from the United States to redeploy Israeli troops from most of Hebron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on the offensive to defend his government’s policies in a whirlwind visit here.

At the same time, Netanyahu sought to focus attention on finding a formula to resume talks with Syria during his second visit to Washington since taking office in June.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher teamed up with President Clinton to deliver the Israeli premier a direct message that the United States wants to see a quick resolution to the long-delayed turnover of most of the West Bank city to the Palestinians.

The United States also hopes to prod Netanyahu to issue more work permits to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s meetings with Clinton and Christopher on Monday coincided with the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on implementing the self-rule accords, including the Hebron redeployment.

The redeployment, originally scheduled for late March, was postponed indefinitely by the previous Labor government after a series of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel.

Palestinians have looked to implementation of the redeployment as a test of goodwill by the Netanyahu government regarding the peace process.

Netanyahu’s visit here also came on the heels of an Israeli announcement that additional work permits would be issued, bringing the total number of Palestinians working in Israel to 50,000, as part of a further easing of the closure imposed on the territories after the first suicide bombing earlier this year.

Netanyahu spent about 12 hours in Washington during which he met with Secretary of Defense William Perry, Christopher and Clinton.

“Security in Hebron is not only an Israeli interest but it is a Palestinian interest,” Netanyahu told Christopher.

Netanyahu told reporters that he discussed the “ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians and what we hope will be a resumption with the Syrians” with the Americans.

In an effort to deflect reports that the United States was pressing his government to act in Hebron, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters, “I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t think there will be pressure.”

The U.S. administration has been accused by Arab states recently of taking a softer line with the Netanyahu government for fear of concerns about a backlash at the polls in November.

Clinton vigorously denied that there had been any shift in his administration’s posture.

“That’s wrong,” Clinton said, responding to reporters’ questions in the Oval Office before he met with the Israeli leader. “Different governments may have different ways of pursuing the peace process,” but the only way to achieve lasting peace “is to work with the elected government.”

After meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in London over the weekend, Christopher called on Israel to take new “concrete steps” to advance Middle East peace.

As Netanyahu made the rounds in Washington, the State Department sought to keep up the pressure over Hebron.

“It’s very important to meet your commitments. It’s important to take actions,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

U.S. officials speaking on the condition that their names not be used said Netanyahu touted his government’s recent moves, including his own meeting last week with Arafat, and highlighted that Israeli and Palestinian teams of negotiators resumed face-to-face meetings this week for the first time since his May election.

In his meetings here, the Israeli premier focused much of his attention on the stalled talks with Damascus. U.S. officials have tried in vain to secure a formula to resume talks between Israel and Syria that Israel suspended in early March after Damascus failed to condemn the suicide bombings.

After meeting for more than an hour with Clinton, Netanyahu told reporters that the United States is putting forth a new proposal to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

“If President Assad is interested in negotiating peace, then I’m sure a forum can be found,” said Netanyahu. It is “crucial” for neither Israel nor Syria to try to “nail the other side to fixed positions to enter the negotiations.”

Netanyahu shored up the invitation to the Oval Office when he met with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat under heavy pressure from U.S. officials.

In his second visit here since taking office in June, Netanyahu maintained a low profile and had little contact with the media.

When asked whether he maintained his insistence that the peace process remain a two-way street, he said, “Sure, everybody knows that already.”

Netanyahu came to the United States to deliver in New York one of the keynote addresses to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Vice President Al Gore and Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp were also scheduled to address the fund- raising gala.

During his brief visit to New York, Netanyahu was also scheduled to visit the Queens grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Recommended from JTA