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U.S. Attempt to Maintain Peace Toughened by Israeli Conditions

By Rebecca Trounson
Los Angeles Times

A week before President Clinton is to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a high-risk bid to revive the flagging Middle East peace process, the Israeli Cabinet on Tuesday imposed a nine-page list of conditions that it said the Palestinians must meet before Israel will hand over any more West Bank land.

U.S. officials said the Israeli action would make Clinton's task more difficult. The administration has said the pullback is essential to its efforts to restart the deadlocked peace talks. "If you focus on the negative and what the other side isn't doing, there's no end to it," a U.S. diplomat said. "There's no way to create a partnership under those circumstances."

Palestinian officials also rejected the Israeli conditions, which add specifics to pledges made by the Palestinian Authority in a 1997 U.S.-brokered agreement that led to Israel withdrawing its troops from the West Bank city of Hebron. Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, accused Israel of stalling the peace process, unwilling to give up more land to the Palestinians.

"This is an excuse," Tibi said. "The Israeli government is trying again to avoid implementing the (peace) agreements." Tibi said the Palestinian Authority was preparing a similar list of Israeli violations.

The Cabinet decision made official what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials have said for weeks - that they would, as Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon first suggested, tie Israel's withdrawal from more West Bank land to Palestinian fulfillment of obligations spelled out in the Hebron agreement.

In that accord, the Palestinians promised to finish revising their national charter, limit the size of their police force and work to fight terrorism. Israel, in turn, said it would release Palestinian prisoners and carry out the first step of a three-phase withdrawal from the West Bank by last March. All three phases were to be completed by mid-1998.

On Tuesday, the third day of alert, extra police and soldiers were deployed nationwide, especially in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to guard against possible attacks.