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News Briefs I

Netanyahu Warns Against Unilateral Moves by Palestinians

Los Angeles Times

Israel will annex the Jordan Valley and other Israeli-occupied areas of the West Bank if the Palestinians unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 warned Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Monday.

Netanyahu's statement, made in discussions with right-wing legislators, came a day after his Cabinet approved a proposal to cede more West Bank land to the Palestinians.

And like that decision, which set tough conditions for the hand-over and left its scope and timetable undetermined, his comments Monday heightened tensions and distrust between Netanyahu's government and the Palestinians.

"Such threats may just expose the real truth of what the Israelis have in mind," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said, referring to Palestinian fears that Israel plans to retain much of the West Bank permanently.

Israel has occupied the territory since it was captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War, although Palestinians now govern its major cities.

Erekat said Netanyahu did not mention his warning when he telephoned Arafat on Monday to tell him that he believed that the Israeli Cabinet's weekend decision advanced the peace process and that they would meet to discuss it once a concrete plan was approved.

But in a meeting with legislators from the right-wing Tsomet party, Netanyahu said that, if Arafat were to declare a Palestinian state without Israeli consent, Israel "will declare an annexation of the Jordan Valley and the Judean desert," said Pinhas Badash, a lawmaker present. He said he interpreted Netanyahu's statement as meaning Israel would annex areas it considers vital to its security, including roads and water resources, as well as the Jordan River valley, which forms the border between Jordan and the Israeli-controlled West Bank.

Badash noted it was possible to interpret Netanyahu's comments to mean that under such circumstances, Israel would annex any part of the West Bank still under Israeli control.

Tsomet members had met with Netanyahu to try to persuade him to support a proposal to annex the Jordan Valley immediately but were turned down, Badash said, adding of the prime minister, "Bibi said that annexing it now will explode the peace process and the Oslo agreements."

David Bar-Illan, a Netanyahu senior aide, said he could not confirm specifics. "But the prime minister intends to do whatever he feels is necessary and advisable if Arafat scuttles the Oslo agreement arbitrarily and unilaterally," he said. "This is intended as a warning."

Reno Still Not Decided On Independent Counsel Investigation

The Washington Post

Attorney General Janet Reno said Monday that she still had not determined whether to seek an independent counsel investigation of fund-raising phone calls by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore but would meet a court deadline Tuesday for her final decision.

Senior Justice Department officials said Monday evening that Reno is expected to accept recommendations from her campaign finance task force that there are no grounds for further investigation of the phone calls and that no independent counsel is necessary.

However, Reno is also considering contrary advice from FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. In a meeting with her last week and a follow-up memo, Freeh argued that an independent counsel should investigate the telephone calls as part of what might be a broader pattern of activities by the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election effort designed to circumvent restrictions on campaign fund-raising, officials said.

Asked as she left a World AIDS Day commemoration at the Justice Department whether she had made a decision yet, Reno told reporters at midday Monday, "No, not yet." Several hours later, a senior Justice Department official involved in Reno's deliberations said there would be no formal decision until Tuesday.

Once she has made a decision, Reno must advise a special three-judge panel of appellate court judges that oversees implementation of the Independent Counsel Act.

The Justice Department's campaign finance task force began separate investigations in September to determine whether Clinton or Gore violated a prohibition against campaign fund-raising on federal property. At issue are calls placed from White House offices soliciting donations from important contributors.