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>Israel Faxx
>PD Dec. 8, 1994, V2, #220

Christopher Meets with Arafat

By Ron Pemstein (Gaza)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher has held talks with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in Gaza city, in the midst of his meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem. The shadow of an Israeli Cabinet decision hung over the talks.

The most urgent topic for Arafat is holding elections for the Palestinian authority as soon as Israeli soldiers pull out of Arab towns in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has already hinted the Cabinet may delay withdrawing the soldiers because of concerns about Arab terrorism against Israelis.

In the meeting held at the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation building on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, Christopher and Arafat sidestepped giving public advice to the Cabinet that meets again Thursday to decide the issue.

Arafat, both in the private meeting with Christopher and publicly before reporters, emphasizes the need for elections and for taking care of the Israeli security concerns. "We are looking to have the election very quickly, but at the same time we are putting our concentration on the needs of security for the Israelis, and we are ready to discuss it in detail with them."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres may inform Arafat about the Cabinet's thinking when they meet on today. The Israelis want special security arrangements for the city of Hebron, in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers are living in the town center.

Christopher describes this meeting as his best to date with Arafat, because the Palestinian leader was conscious of his responsibility to control terrorism here in Gaza and in Jericho.

Christopher has been sympathetic to the Israeli security concerns. At the same time, he wants to see the agreement with the Palestinians carried out. As one American official puts it, this is a fundamental bargain, political and economic life for the Palestinians in return for Israeli security. Christopher told reporters here he is encouraged a solution will be found.

"We recognized in our discussions today the importance of holding the elections at an early date. In our discussions, the chairman also made it clear that he understands the responsibilities and commitments that he has undertaken in the declaration of principles, and he intends to carry out those responsibilities against terror and violence."

.By coming to Gaza, the secretary of state wanted to symbolize American support for the efforts the Palestinians are making to carry out the agreement with the Israelis and to establish self government.

American officials say Arafat was lavish in his praise of the US efforts at the recent conference in Brussels, where donors pledged $105 million in new money for the Palestinian government here to fill in a budget gap and $24 million in new projects.

Palestinians, both armed and unarmed, stood guard for Christopher's motorcade along every meter of the road between the last Israeli checkpoint and the meeting here. Security is an issue for the Palestinians, too, because Islamic fundamentalist attacks against Israelis damage Arafat's credibility. Everybody has to understand, Arafat says, there is only one Palestine National Authority, and everyone must respect the law.

Christopher Ends Mideast Shuttle

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher concluded his brief Israel-Syria shuttle Wednesday morning with statements indicating no change in the positions which separate the two countries and indications any Israel-Syria peace accord is months away.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin says he got some hope for the future from his meeting with Christopher, but no indication of significant change in the positions which have created the current stalemate.
"I heard from Secretary Christopher his impressions from his visit to Damascus and I believe there are impressions and information that he will speak about later that show that we can overcome certain difficulties in the future."

But Christopher declined to give any details of his talks which might provide evidence of progress or reason for optimism. And speaking in Hebrew, Rabin added that basic positions have not changed. Israel wants Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to publicly condemn terrorism and state his vision of full peace. Assad wants Israel to publicly promise to return all of the Golan Heights before he will agree to direct negotiations, without the US mediators.

Christopher met with Assad in Damascus
Tuesday afternoon and with Rabin here Wednesday morning. The secretary said he concluded that the two leaders are serious about making peace, but are also focused on the needs and interests of their own countries.

"I feel that there are real opportunities here to reach a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. What is going on here are serious discussions on both sides by leaders who are, I think, determined to pursue peace, but very conscious of the needs and interests of both of their countries. Our work, I believe, is narrowing the gaps, but much hard work remains to be done."

Christopher also repeated the US commitment to Israel's security, a statement which will help Israel in the talks with Syria and it its dispute the Palestinians over the withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the West Bank. Just before leaving for Gaza to focus on Israel-Palestinian issues, Christopher said the US mediation between Israel and Syria will continue.

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