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Middle East: Clinton Says Just Peace Can Avert Terrorism

Washington, 20 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says the best way to avert terrorism in the Middle East is by achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Clinton made the comments at the White House following a grenade attack on a bus station in southern Israel Monday that injured more than 60 people. The incident cast a shadow on already difficult peace talks at a secluded resort area in the eastern state of Maryland outside Washington, with the Israelis demanding that security issues be now the only focus of the negotiations.

Clinton said: "No cause, no grievance justifies terror. This is another attempt to murder, plain and simple. Now I am convinced that reaching a secure, just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the best way to ensure that terrorism has no future in the Middle East."

The president again traveled the short distance to Maryland to help mediate. He already has invested more than 20 hours of his time in negotiations that began Thursday. On Sunday, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were all at hand along with top aides.

Clinton said: "The issues are difficult. The distrust is deep. The going has been tough. But the parties must consider the consequences of failure and also the benefits of progress."

State Department spokesman James Rubin read to reporters a joint statement agreed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that said the two sides are determined to do everything possible to fight terrorism.

The statement said in part: "We pledge to cooperate against the threat of terrorism and recognize that fighting terror is a vital interest for both sides. Freedom from terror and violence is an essential condition of durable peace."

The Israeli decision to hold off on all but security negotiations with the Palestinian Authority was announced by David Bar-Illan, a senior adviser to Netanyahu. He said the Palestinian Authority is not doing anything to crack down on terrorist activity.

Netanyahu said that a land-for-peace deal is impossible unless Palestinians live up to their security commitments. He has offered to withdraw from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank if Israeli demands were met.

In a statement issued in Hebrew, Netanyahu said: "If the Palestinians do not fulfill their commitments on security, an agreement is impossible. The Palestinian Authority must fight terrorism and I am insisting on it at the summit."

Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian Legislative Council said it is Palestinian security that's being violated daily by the Israeli Army presence.

Ashrawi said Israel wants the Palestinians to guarantee the security of every single Israeli. "This is mission impossible," he said.

The peace talks have been stalled for a year and a half. What is at stake is an interim agreement that would commit Israel to withdraw from another 13 percent of the West Bank in stages over 12 weeks. In return, the Palestinians would carry out verifiable steps to fight terrorism.

Difficult issues seem to remain unresolved. One is to determine methods by which Palestinian efforts are judged valid to fight terrorism and Israeli demands for the extradition of Palestinians wanted in Israel.

Arafat has threatened to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally by next May 4. Under a previous agreement, by that date Palestinians and Isrealis were supposed to have concluded a final peace accord, setting Palestinian borders, the fate of refugees and - the single most emotional issue for both sides - the future of Jerusalem.