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Violence must stop - Albright

Violence must stop - Albright
By Herb Keinon and Lamia Lahoud

JERUSALEM (January 5) - US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said yesterday Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat must carry out commitments to reduce violence.

Albright also said that Israel and the Palestinians are very close on some aspects of a peace agreement and the Clinton administration, which hands over power to the incoming Bush team on Jan. 20, would work ”to the last moment.”

”We have come very close on a whole set of issues and we are just going to keep working,” Albright told a joint news conference with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic.

She added: ”But the real problem at the moment is the violence and it is very hard, as we clarify all this, to not pay attention to the problems of violence and that is the message that we are sending out.” ”It’s absolutely essential for him [Arafat] to live up to the various commitments that he made to try to lessen violence and get it under control,” she said.

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo yesterday left it up to Arafat to decide whether to accept US President Bill Clinton’s bridging proposals.

They also said that the Palestinian refugees’ ”right of return” is inviolable and expressed concern about the future of Jerusalem.

An Israeli official said that Arafat got what he wanted in Cairo: leeway to do as he sees fits with Clinton’s proposals, along with a statement supporting his hard-line stance on the refugee issue. He said that Arafat is playing a transparent game - saying yes to Clinton so as not to be blamed for the breakdown of the process, yet taking long enough to do so to make it impossible to secure an agreement before Israel’s February 6 elections.

”During the last 10 days he has managed to get the Clinton proposals documented, with American clarifications, so they will be the basis for future negotiations,” the official said. ”And in the meantime he is waiting for [Likud head Ariel] Sharon to win the election, reject the proposals, and then be blamed for the breakdown of the process.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, who chaired the Cairo meeting, told reporters afterward: ”I would like to point out that Lebanon has totally rejected the idea of resettling the Palestinian refugees [permanently] and insisted on the right of the Palestinians to return [to Israel]. We believe that this is a sacred right.”

”The Palestinians could not, and I don’t think they will, approve of the dropping of the refugees’ right of return,” Moussa added.

Arafat said on returning to Gaza yesterday that he hopes to reach a final peace accord before Clinton leaves office on January 20.

Asked by reporters whether a deal is possible, Arafat replied, ”We hope so. We hope for that, according to the promise by President Clinton to make every possible effort before the period ends.”

Arafat did not say whether he would accept the proposals, but his adviser, Bassam Abu Sharif, said that both Arafat and Prime Minister Ehud Barak had accepted the plan with reservations, which they want to discuss and negotiate.

He said a Palestinian envoy would return to the US for talks among the three parties.

Barak bureau chief Gilead Sher arrived in Washington yesterday to receive clarifications from the Americans on the Clinton-Arafat meetings.

Abu Sharif said committees of experts from both sides would meet soon to discuss objections to the Clinton proposals and seek common ground. These discussions will likely extend into the Bush administration, he added.

Abu Sharif said the trilateral security committee established to try reducing the violence will meet in Egypt on Sunday. This committee, set up after the Sharm e-Sheikh summit in October, will be comprised of Tourism and Transportation Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Gaza Preventive Security Service chief Mohammed Dahlan, and CIA Director George Tenet.

Dahlan told the Voice of Palestine yesterday that the Palestinians will not agree to engage in security cooperation until Israel ”ends its violence against the Palestinians.” Fatah leaders have said that they oppose any security cooperation with Israel, and Dahlan’s security service is made up of Fatah activists.

Dahlan also said the intifada is independent from the negotiations. He said the uprising would not end because of Israel’s assassinations of intifada activists.

Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami also took expectations down a notch yesterday after meeting in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. He said an interim deal could be reached if a final agreement is not achieved before Clinton steps down. ”We need to double our efforts in an attempt to reach a deal before he leaves office,” Ben-Ami said.

”I believe we can reach, if not an agreement, some fundamental declaration of principles which can form the basis of an agreement,” he told a news conference. ”If we don’t reach an agreement, we need to be more practical and realistic. If it is impossible, we need to find a substitute that could be a more general declaration of principles. Our call to the Palestinians to double their efforts on cracking down on violence and terrorism is more forceful than ever. There is a real danger of deterioration.”

Ben-Ami said he is sure the US will remain engaged in the peace process after Clinton. ”I trust whoever is in the White House will go for peace in the Middle East as a vital component of US foreign policy,” he said.

Fischer said Germany supports the US peace plan and urged both sides to adopt it. ”One would only lose more time and more innocent people,” he said. ”Both sides are called to seize the chance now.”

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