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NETANYAHU RESISTS WITHDRAWING TROOPS.

Byline: Terry Atlas Chicago Tribune

Although he yielded to symbolism by meeting recently with PLO chief Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear Monday that he wasn't softening on the underlying issues that have slowed the Mideast peace process to a crawl.

At the White House for talks with President Clinton, Netanyahu avoided any new commitment about pulling back Israeli troops from the West Bank town of Hebron - where about 400 Israeli settlers live among 100,000 Palestinians - as promised by the previous, more dovish, Israeli government.

Netanyahu did ask Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher for continuing American help in resuming peace negotiations with Syria. But he made clear that such talks would have to be on his terms, with no advance assurances about giving up all or part of the Golan Heights in return for peace with Damascus.

In their hourlong Oval Office session, President Clinton commended Netanyahu for his meeting with Arafat, which was partly engineered by the U.S., and avoided seeming to pressure the tough-minded Israeli leader for concessions.

``I found the president's attitude very open, very fair, very helpful,'' Netanyahu said afterward.

But administration officials said they are looking for Netanyahu to pick up the pace of the talks with the Palestinians now that he has crossed a ``psychological threshold'' by shaking hands with the PLO chief last Wednesday.

American officials worry that the lack of tangible progress by Israelis and the Palestinians, particularly on the explosive issue of Hebron, is eroding Arafat's support among Palestinians and playing into the hands of extremists on both sides.

The former Israeli government led by Prime Minister Shimon Peres agreed to pull back Israeli troops from Palestinian areas in Hebron by last March as part of the accord granting Palestinian self-rule, but missed the deadline because of political and security concerns.

The Clinton administration wants the Netanyahu government to implement the Israeli troop pullback soon - within the next two months. That timing would give Clinton a visible foreign policy success in the Mideast shortly before U.S. elections.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the U.S. message to the Israelis is, ``It's very important to meet your commitments. It's important to take action'' on the Hebron situation.

Netanyahu's Likud-led government, however, is under intense pressure from its supporters to renegotiate the military withdrawal plan to provide more secure arrangements for Hebron's militant Jewish minority.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 10, 1996
Words:401
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