U.S. Won’t Pressure Israel to Pull Out of West Bank : Mideast: Jewish state is balking at troop withdrawal after terrorist attacks. Christopher’s comments are seen as an endorsement of Rabin.


Secretary of State Warren Christopher, giving Israeli negotiators maximum room to maneuver, said Tuesday that Israel cannot be required to keep its commitment to withdraw its West Bank occupation force until a spate of terrorist incidents is brought under control.

“The security pledges are absolutely fundamental to the process going forward,” he said as he arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“Unless there is security, it is clear that the other commitments cannot be met,” Christopher said. “. . . The fundamental bedrock of these agreements . . . is security for the parties, and without that security, it’s clear to me that the agreements cannot properly go forward.”


In the peace agreement signed in May by Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israel pledged to pull its troops from Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank before elections are held to choose members of the Palestinian self-governing authority.

No date has been set for the elections, but Israeli officials have begun to hint that Israel might not keep its agreement to redeploy its army because of growing security concerns resulting from a suicide bus bombing in Tel Aviv; a bloody battle between the PLO-sponsored Palestinian police and radical Islamic fundamentalists in Gaza, and other terrorist incidents.

Christopher’s comments seemed to be intended as an endorsement of whatever course the Israelis might choose. Washington has exhorted Israel and the PLO to adhere to the agreements signed on the White House lawn.

But Christopher made it clear that the United States will not attempt to pressure Israel to withdraw its troops until it is ready to do so.

In Cairo, Israeli and PLO negotiators began a new round of talks on details for the election and for Israeli troop redeployment.

PLO officials argued that Israel must pull out its troops on schedule.

Nabil Shaath, PLO chief negotiator, said any change in Israeli withdrawal plans will constitute a violation of the peace agreement.


“Everything that stops the peace process worries me very much, and this peace process is very clear. It has a time schedule, and anybody who wants to change that will be violating the agreement,” Shaath said.

But Rabin told reporters Monday that Israel intends to negotiate separately on each phase of the peace plan and will go ahead only when its security concerns are satisfied.

He said Israel will apply lessons learned in the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. The Gaza Strip has been under Palestinian control for almost a year, and Israel claims that the Palestinian Authority has been unable to keep order there.

Christopher flew to Israel after meeting for 4 1/2 hours in Damascus with Syrian President Hafez Assad. Christopher described the talks as “serious and detailed,” and other U.S. officials said they produced tiny but perceptible progress toward an Israel-Syria peace agreement.

Top officials in both Syria and Israel have complained recently that their talks, conducted through U.S. mediators, are near a dead end. Each side accused the other of making unreasonable demands.

A senior U.S. official dismissed the comments as “public posturing” but said each side was trying to send a clear signal that it was unable to agree to the demands of the other.


In a joint news conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak over the weekend, Assad said Syria prefers the status quo to the peace that Israel has offered.

Apparently reacting to that comment, Christopher said: “We must continue to move forward. There is no going back. To accept the status quo would . . . miss a historic opportunity to achieve peace with security--an opportunity that is not likely to come again.”

One senior U.S. official said Christopher decided to visit the Middle East this week because he was nearby attending a European security conference in Budapest, Hungary.

The official indicated that the talks with Assad and Rabin were intended to keep the negotiations going but that no breakthroughs were expected--or achieved.

The original schedule called for Christopher to return to Damascus on Thursday to report on his talks in Israel. But that stop has been canceled, allowing him to return to the United States on Thursday.

Christopher meets with Rabin this morning, then heads to Gaza for talks with Arafat.

U.S. officials hope the visit will bolster Arafat’s sagging authority in the Palestinian-controlled territory, although one senior official conceded that most Palestinians who have soured on Arafat’s leadership are unlikely to be persuaded by anything the Americans do.