Arafat To Meet with Clinton; Vows Violence Will Continue
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is heading to Washington Tuesday to discuss President Clinton's proposals for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact.
Even so, the Palestinian leader has vowed to continue the current wave of violence in the disputed territories until the Palestinians achieve their demands.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak expressed doubts that an agreement could be reached before Clinton leaves office, and accused Arafat of dragging his feet in responding to the proposals.
Earlier, Barak instructed the army to prepare for the possibility of regional war if the sides fail to reach an agreement.
A powerful car bomb exploded in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya on Monday evening, wounding dozens. One day earlier, a prominent Israeli activist and his wife were killed when terrorists opened fire on their vehicle.
Barak, who spoke with Clinton after the car bombing, said he had "deep doubts" about the "seriousness" of Arafat's intention of reaching an agreement that would take into account Israel's interests.
According to a statement from his office, Barak told Clinton he believes Arafat intends "to work for the internationalization of the conflict" by encouraging terrorism beyond the end of Clinton's term in office.
"President Clinton has another three weeks or so and it's not reasonable that an agreement will be reached in the last three days or the last week of his term," Barak said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
"Arafat burned up the greater part of this time with foot-dragging with all of the clarifications he requested and tried to obtain. We truly have deep doubts about the seriousness of his intentions to reach such an agreement," Barak said.
Ten days ago, Clinton presented the two sides with a set of recommendations, which he said met the fundamental needs of Israel and the Palestinians. Israel accepted them as a basis for further negotiations on condition the PA also accepted them. But the PA demanded clarification on some issues.
Preparing For War
Barak, who is also Defense Minister, told senior military officers Monday to prepare for the possibility of a regional war. He told them to bear in mind that the security situation could deteriorate into a conflict encompassing the entire Middle East.
However, he downplayed his comments on Tuesday saying that it was "not the first time" he had spoken with the General Staff about the subject since the beginning of the violent Palestinian uprising in September.
The prime minister's office said Barak had directed the army and security services to prepare for the possibility of a "unilateral separation" between Israel and the PA areas. Such a separation, he said, would be "lengthy and gradual."
Monday night's explosion left 54 people injured. Witnesses said there was a series of three blasts from a booby-trapped car, apparently rigged with more than 20 pounds of explosives.
The attack blew the windows out of nearby shops and mangled parked automobiles in the vicinity during busy evening shopping hours. A man, seriously injured, is suspected of being involved in the incident.
On Sunday, a fatal shooting left Binyamin Kahane and his wife Talia dead. Their five young daughters, who were in the car with them when it was sprayed with automatic weapons fire, survived.
Kahane's father, an outspoken nationalist rabbi, was killed by a Muslim in New York 10 years ago. Rabbi Meir Kahane was the founder of a militant movement called Kach, defined by the State Department as a terrorist group and banned in Israel for incitement.
Arafat vowed on Monday to continue the violent uprising until the goals of the Palestinians have been achieved.
Nevertheless, his aides said that Arafat's White House meeting would be important.
Arafat spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, called it "a decisive visit at which the future of the peace process will be determined."
The Palestine Liberation Organization's top representative in the U.S., Hassan Abdel Rahman, was quoted as saying that the meeting had been organized once "the American side agreed with the Palestinians that there is a need for clarification and discussion" of Clinton's plan.
The Palestinian leader is scheduled to meet with the President at 2 PM (EST). There are no plans for a similar Barak visit to the White House, but the prime minister said he would send Israeli envoys if they were invited by Clinton and there is "a halting of violence" and other Israeli-Palestinian "cooperation against the terrorism."
Arafat's Fatah faction has been involved in many of the shooting attacks on Israelis since September.
Israel has also accused him of giving a green light to other militant groups to carry out terror attacks.
In the early days of the uprising, the PA released from prison dozens of activists from the Hamas terrorist group.