Israel warned over West Bank

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The Independent Online
A senior Palestinian negotiator warned Israel's incoming Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, yesterday that he would be playing with fire if he carried out his campaign threats to expand West Bank settlements and to send Israeli troops to hunt terrorists in towns now under Palestinian rule.

Saeb Erakat, the Local Government Minister in the Palestinian Authority, was speaking after an emergency Cabinet meeting convened by Yasser Arafat in Gaza on Friday. A sombre Mr Arafat declined to draw hasty conclusions, but called on the new right-wing government to honour existing agreements and persevere with negotiations for a permanent solution.

"Now," Dr Erakat, a British-educated political scientist, told the Independent on Sunday, "the ball is in the Israeli court. They can't have settlements and peace. Peace and the annexation of land are two parallel lines that cannot meet. The Israelis must choose.

"If the new government looks for a new equation - peace for peace, instead of land for peace - we won't have a peace process any more. And this will have repercussions all over the Middle East. It will not only jeopardise the Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Egyptian peace treaties, but the trend towards peace between Israel and the Arabs in general. If there is no progress on the Palestinian track, how can anyone else move forward?"

The minister was equally emphatic about the future of Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital. During the election campaign, which ended with a Netanyahu victory by 0.9 per cent, the Likud candidate ruled out any political negotiations on the holy city, although Israel committed itself to such negotiations in the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles. "If there isn't a satisfactory answer to the Jerusalem question," Dr Erakat stressed, "there will not be peace."

Dr Erakat served notice that sending Israeli troops back into Palestinian towns would "spell disaster".

He added: "An agreement was signed, Palestinian security forces are deployed. I can only hope that the world community will intervene immediately to maintain a process that is already fragile."

Asked whether he shared fears on the Israeli left that Israeli search- and-destroy missions might rekindle the seven-year intifada or provoke an armed confrontation, Dr Erakat replied: "We have a peace process. Let's hope the new Israeli government will honour the agreements and continue with the process. If they don't, we'll have to reassess the situation."

Hawk of peace, page 21