New Netanyahu stance on West Bank angers Palestinians

 

The President of the Palestine Authority, Mr Yasser Arafat, condemned as a "dangerous and flagrant violation of the peace process" Mr Benjamin Netanyahu's weekend statement on the West Bank. Speaking to Jewish journalists on Friday the Israeli Prime Minister asserted that the West Bank "is part of Israel proper". Mr Arafat retorted angrily: "The Palestinian people are attached to their occupied land and to liberating it from the claws of the Israeli occupation."

The Palestinian Minister of Higher Education, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, also expressed outrage, calling the Netanyahu statement "preposterous". A Jordanian columnist, Mr Moussa Keilani, accused the Likud-led government of trying to confine Palestinian self-rule to a "Gaza city state" while the West Bank became an "Israeli colony" dotted with islands of Palestinian "autonomy".

Palestinian analysts in Jerusalem were "not surprised by this statement", Dr Ghassan Khatib, a prominent commentator, told The Irish Times. "This is the impression we have had of the Likud attitude in general. What is important is that it was said publicly at that level." Dr Khatib added that the Palestinians were also concerned by an apparent shift in the United States position. The objective of the Oslo accords was, he said, to implement United Nations resolution 242 which calls for Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in 1967.

This means that Israel must withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza during the interim period ending in May 1999 - in other words from all but the settlements, military locations and Jerusalem.

"This amounts to about 10 per cent of the land," Dr Khatib said. "But the US is now taking the attitude that the fate of the West Bank is to be decided in negotiations. "The West Bank is not disputed land. It has always been recognised as occupied land by the international community."

Palestinians are convinced that it will be Mr Arafat rather than Mr Netanyahu who will be asked to take action when the two men meet separately with President Clinton next month.

The Israeli cabinet is expected to spell out both the scope of Israel's troop redeployment from the West Bank and list its demands on the security front over the next few weeks. "But withdrawal will begin only five weeks after the Palestinian Authority begins to satisfy Israel on security and other demands," Dr Khatib said.