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Middle East: Israel And Palestinians Face Future Tough Bargaining

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 26 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says that, despite the recent interim land-for-security accord, tough bargaining is still ahead between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a final peace settlement.

Albright said in a television interview Sunday (on the U.S. network CBS) that "the world is closer to having a more settled atmosphere in the Middle East" because of the U.S.-brokered talks. She said she hopes the negotiations for a final settlement will continue in good faith.

But Albright said the road to peace will be a difficult one. She said the status of Jerusalem is probably the toughest issue facing the two sides.

Israel says Jerusalem is its capital and that it will never be divided again. The Palestinians are seeking to govern the eastern part of the city as the capital of an independent Palestine. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war in which the West Bank of Jordan, the Golan Heights of Syria and the Sinai desert of Egypt were also captured.

The Israelis returned the Sinai following an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, have kept the strategic Golan, and returned a portion of the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip, as part of the ongoing peace process with the Palestinians.

The interim peace agreement signed at the White House Friday following marathon negotiations calls for a phased Israeli withdrawal from another 13 percent of West Bank land in return for Palestinian security measures to combat terrorism. When the agreement is implemented in the coming weeks, the Palestinians will end up with about 40 percent of the West Bank.

Netanyahu told a news conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday that the deal worked out at the Wye River plantation near Washington was the best he could manage under the circumstances. He acknowledged that withdrawing from the West Bank is painful because of Israeli security considerations.

In an interview with a U.S. TV network (NBC), Netanyahu insisted the Palestinian flag will never fly over Jerusalem and that he will oppose a sovereign state for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu said: "I don't believe that a fully fledged, sovereign entity that can bring an army onto the hills above Tel Aviv, that can make a military pact with Iraq, with Iran -- that's what sovereign states can do -- I don't believe that's the prescription for peace. We'll have to have limitations on certain sovereign powers of the Palestinian entity."

And in an interview with the Reuters news agency, the prime minister warned that if the Palestinians "unilaterally make a determination about statehood, Israel cannot be expected to not take unilateral action on its own."

Netanyahu added: "This would be, I think, bad for the Palestinians and bad for peace. I hope the experience of Wye tells us that the right way to go and the only way to go is negotiations for peace."

A key element of the interim agreement calls for negotiations to begin almost immediately on so-called "final status" issues. In addition to Jerusalem, these issues include establishing the borders of a Palestinian entity.

Under agreements reached in Oslo, Norway, in 1993 and 1995, the talks are to be completed by May 4, 1999.

Netanyahu brushed aside the deadline as meaningless, even though Arafat has threatened to declare an independent Palestinian state if an agreement is not reached by then.

U.S. officials involved in the recent negotiations said Arafat declined to give a commitment about not declaring an independent Palestinian state in the absence of a final peace accord.