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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/show_katava.asp?id=26496&mador=1&datee=8/18/98

Ha'aretz, August 18, 1998

Al Shara Assails PM's 'Credibility'

Norwegians urge Netanyahu to attend Oslo anniversary event

By David Makovsky, Yossi Verter and Daniel Sobelman, Ha'aretz Correspondents and Agencies

 

In a televised interview, Syria's foreign minister said he questions Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's credibility in peace negotiations and that ""Syria is not in a hurry to make an unjust peace."

Foreign Minister Faruq al Shara said in an interview on Lebanese television Sunday that his country would only resume negotiations with Israel from the point where they broke off in February 1996. Netanyahu, he said, is undermining his credibility by refusing to recognize what was agreed between Syria and Israel under the previous Labor government.

"How can Syria be certain that if it reaches an agreement with Netanyahu, that the government that follows will also be committed to the same accord?"

A leading Syrian newspaper yesterday branded a "provocation" the statement attributed to Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai to the effect that "the depth of peace [with Syria] will be equal to the depth of [Israeli] security."

Mordechai has since said that he was misquoted by the German newspaper Focus, where the interview appeared. On Sunday - after his wording caused a furor in Israel - he amended the statement to read, "the depth of peace is the depth of security."

Yesterday, Mordechai refined his statement further, asserting that the more Israel's security needs will be met, the more it will be able to contemplate Syria's demands.

The Syrian paper al-Ba'th wrote that Mordechai's declaration furnished "incisive proof that the Israeli government is bent on escalating the situation in the region."

In Israel, National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon said that "any thought liable to return the Syrians to the shore of the Sea of Galilee is unacceptable." Sharon, who spoke to reporters during a tour of Israel Railways, said the Golan Heights is of "enormous importance" for Israel's security because of the water sources there.

However, the chairman of the Meretz party, MK Yossi Sarid, declared that "the depth of the negotiations with Syria is equal to the depth of empty patter of the prime minister and his cabinet, which is equal to the depth of the negotiations with the Palestinians, namely: zero depth."

Elaborating, Sarid explained that "we will have negotiations with the Syrians just as there will be a second redeployment as there was a first redeployment, just as Israel's soldiers will leave Lebanon, just as unemployment in Ofakim will decrease and just as crime will be reduced while (Avigdor) Kahalani is minister of public security."

The chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Uzi Landau (Likud), said autonomous remarks by high-level officials and senior ministers concerning concessions to Syria reflect these officials' lack of political experience and military savvy.

"We have to learn from the Arabs how to conduct negotiations," Landau said. "No one among them volunteers to make concessions before talks even begin."

In the meantime, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek yesterday urged Netanyahu by phone to reconsider his refusal to attend a ceremony commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Oslo accord next week in the Norwegian capital.

According to diplomatic sources, Vollebaek said Netanyahu should make use of the occasion as an opportunity to resolve outstanding issues surrounding the moribund talks on the second West Bank pullback.

Last week, officials in the Prime Minister's Office quoted Netanyahu as saying he would turn down the Norwegians' request to attend the event in Oslo, saying it would be unseemly to do so while talks are stuck.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has said he will attend next week's event in Oslo, as has the U.S. envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross. Former prime minister Shimon Peres, one of the architects of the Oslo accord, will also attend.

As for the state of the peace process itself, Netanyahu said some time ago that he is willing to meet with Arafat, but the Palestinian leader is refusing to reciprocate. Over the weekend, Arafat announced that he was canceling a scheduled meeting with top Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho.

It is not clear whether Washington is trying to get Netanyahu to accept the Norwegian invitation. Norway heads the donor country effort to support the Palestinian Authority. Vollebaek and Netanyahu have been on friendly terms for many years.

Talks on the second pullback have stalled on the question of whether the Palestinians will accept the idea of designating some of the West Bank as a nature reserve, probably in the Judean Desert, as a means of reconciling U.S. demands for a 13 percent Israeli pullback with Israel's insistence on a more limited withdrawal.

In Lebanon yesterday, Israeli warplanes raided suspected positions of the militant Islamic Hezbollah organization just north of the security zone.

 


(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved



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