Netanyahu Comes to Washington with Peace Hopes Fading

Article excerpt

As Israel's prime minister packed for a visit to Washington tomorrow , Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat wrote to President Clinton demanding that any U.S. peace initiative require Israel to stop building Jewish settlements on disputed Jerusalem land.

Mr. Arafat's letter said any plan for restarting peace talks must contain five basic points, including a stop to settlement construction, recognition of trading land for peace and affirmation that previous agreements must be carried out, said Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani.

But despite pleas from King Hussein of Jordan, other Arab leaders and dovish Israelis for strong U.S. leadership, the Clinton administration does not appear likely to twist the arms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat to save the peace process.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, however, could prove the unpredictable wild card to reinvigorate U.S. policy.

Mr. Netanyahu is to address the annual three-day meeting of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tomorrow. He is also due to meet with Mr. Clinton, but there are no indications he will listen to him.

Administration sources said last week the president intended to ask Mr. Netanyahu to freeze settlement-building activities for six months to help save the peace process. On Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu and his spokesman Shai Bezek both ruled out any such move in strong language.

And as Mr. Netanyahu threw snubs at the Clinton administration, he seemed to be rewarded for them by gaining crucial new pledges for U.S. military aid on crucial anti-ballistic missile and laser programs.

And at the same time, the Israeli government decided to "thicken" existing settlements in the West Bank, Netanyahu spokesman David Bar-Illan said.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the U.S. government had no details on what these plans meant until Mrs. Albright quizzed visiting Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai about them Thursday.

Mrs. Albright's response to Mr. Mordechai appears to have been a forceful one.

Mr. Burns refused to describe or characterize her comments to the tough former combat general. But he described the general tone of their discussions as "very direct. . . . They talked very frankly with each other."

That is usually diplomatic code for a raging disagreement. …