Rabin stands firm in US on security issue

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THE Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, arrived yesterday in Washington, site of his historic handshake with the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, in September. The handshake did not seal an agreement but expressed the common desire to achieve one. Recent events have both exposed the shortcomings of that agreement and threatened to derail the peace process.

Negotiations between the PLO and Israel on the implementation of their accord, granting limited autonomy to Jericho and the Gaza Strip, had already run into difficulty before the 25 February massacre of Muslim worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.

Since then, Palestinians have been demanding greater protection in the West Bank and Gaza, where the Israeli military authorities have responsibility for security. This has become a greater priority for the Palestinians than resuming the peace talks.

However, Mr Rabin said last night that, while Israel was stepping up efforts to woo Arabs back to peace talks, he would not compromise on security matters. 'I must clarify to our Palestinian partners: the feeling of loss and sorrow in the wake of the Hebron tragedy will not change our fundamental position regarding the security of the state of Israel and its citizens, including the Jewish residents in Judaea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip,' he said, using Biblical names for West Bank territory. 'We have no intention of compromising on any security matters.'

The PLO finds itself in an all too familiar quandary. It appeals to the US to play a greater role but despairs of finding it acting as honest broker.

Mr Rabin can expect a fairly sympathetic hearing from President Clinton. Since September, the US has underlined its commitment to Israel's long-term security by agreeing the sale of F-15I combat aircraft, which will give the Israeli air force the technological edge over its regional rivals.

Mr Clinton and Mr Rabin must both weigh how large a carrot is to be dangled in front of the Palestinians to tempt them back to negotiations.

Since the Hebron attack, the UN Security Council has been considering the adoption of a resolution condemning the massacre and calling for an international presence in the occupied territories. It has been held up by the US so it can be linked to a PLO commitment to return to peace talks.

Some of the resolution's elements are controversial. Jerusalem is included as an occupied territory, for example; and a call is made to disarm Jewish settlers in the territories.

(Photograph omitted)