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Clinton Assails Housing Plan in Israel, Meets with Arafat

By Tyler Marshall and Rebecca Trounson
Los Angeles Times

President Clinton waded back into the Middle East peace process Monday, criticizing Israel's decision to build Jewish housing in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem as a move that "builds mistrust" and then meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for more than an hour at the White House.

Before starting his meeting with Arafat, Clinton said of the planned Israeli development: "I wish (the decision) had not been made. I don't think it builds confidence, I think it builds mistrust."

While the administration's opposition to the east Jerusalem housing project was known, these were the president's first comments since the controversial project won Israeli government approval last week.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 toured east Jerusalem to underline his government's stated commitment to invest in housing and other infrastructure for Palestinians, even as Israel builds 6,500 homes for Jews on a hill on the city's southeastern boundary.

The housing project Netanyahu describes as a simple step toward making Jerusalem a single, integrated city, is viewed by Palestinians as an attempt to pre-empt any negotiations on the final status of the city. The city's fate is one of the most emotional of all in the delicate and troubled road toward peace in the region.

After his session with Clinton, Arafat met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The two agreed to form a joint U.S.-Palestinian committee that would meet several times a year. State Department officials said the committee, chaired by Albright and Arafat, is patterned after existing panels established to monitor America's relations with Russia, South Africa, and Egypt.

Palestinian reaction to the Israeli announcement has been relatively muted. Arafat and other Palestinian leaders have issued angry but fairly predictable denunciations of the move as a violation of the peace agreements, but have made certain that the few demonstrations so far have been carefully controlled.

The real test, Palestinian and U.S. officials in Jerusalem say, will come later, after Arafat's U.S. visit, on the still-unspecified day when bulldozers begin to clear ground on the hill known in Hebrew as Har Homa and in Arabic as Jabal Abu Ghneim.