Netanyahu digs in over accord

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The Independent Online
IN THE run-up to President Bill Clinton's visit to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza later this month Israel is again sparring with America over the implementation of the Wye peace agreement brokered by the United States.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, who suspended the agreement earlier in the week, said yesterday: "We have seen an ongoing attempt by the Palestinians to dissolve the agreement, to ignore the agreement or to violate it crudely."

The US earlier rebuffed Mr Netanyahu's demand that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, promise to make no unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.

James Rubin, the US State Department spokesman, said the Wye accord should be implemented as signed and the US considers it "inappropriate to add new conditions to the implementation of the agreement". Dennis Ross, the US special envoy, is expected in Israel at the weekend to try to defuse the latest conflict.

Mr Netanyahu's suspension of the agreement, though annoying to the US, is probably motivated primarily by his need to show the Israeli right wing that he is fighting every step of the way to limit Israeli concessions to Mr Arafat.

Israel also wants to limit the degree to which President Clinton's visit to Gaza on 14 December is seen by the world as de facto American recognition of the Palestinian right to self- determination. It has asked Mr Clinton not to fly into Gaza's recently opened airport because that would be seen as a recognition of Palestinian sovereignty.

Mr Clinton is to address the Palestinian National Council and to visit Bethlehem, another Palestinian-controlled enclave. He will balance this with a visit to Masada, the ancient Jewish fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.

Meanwhile divisions are growing within the Israeli security establishment over the Israeli presence in south Lebanon. The daily Yediot Aharanot reports that Ami Ayalon, head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, favours an immediate, unilateral withdrawal.