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Christopher Pledges Fast Palestinian Aid : Mideast: U.S. official hails new accord with Israel, tells Arafat terrorists must be punished .

March 11, 1995|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GAZA CITY — Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Friday promised to dun deadbeat countries to pay up pledges to the fledgling Palestinian government and offered to redesign U.S. aid to provide the maximum impact on the hard-pressed economy of the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

At the same time, he warned Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat that the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate "that Gaza cannot be a safe haven for terrorists" by beginning to prosecute and punish Palestinians who attack Israelis.

Christopher and Arafat met for a little more than an hour in the Palestinian Authority's seaside headquarters one day after the PLO leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres agreed to complete by July 1 negotiations to extend Palestinian self-rule across the West Bank.

U.S. officials accompanying Christopher were elated by the Arafat-Peres accord, even though it was announced before the American party arrived in Israel, depriving the secretary of state of much of the credit for the pact. These officials said the agreement demonstrates that the long-stalemated Israel-Arab peace talks may be about to take off.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told Christopher on Thursday night that his government is ready to renew serious negotiations with Syria.

He pointedly predicted that he will be able to sell a peace pact with Syria to the Israeli public. Rabin earlier said that he will submit to a referendum any agreement requiring Israel to withdraw from some or all of the Golan Heights.

U.S. officials said Christopher will deliver that message to Syrian President Hafez Assad on Monday in Damascus.

But Christopher heard a much different story Friday in a 45-minute meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party.

U.S. officials said Netanyahu--who leads Rabin in public opinion polls in advance of the prime ministerial election that must be held by November, 1996--made clear that, if he becomes prime minister, he will stop all peace negotiations being conducted by the Rabin government.

After the meeting, Netanyahu predicted that the public will reject any agreement requiring Israel to relinquish any of the Golan, a strategic plateau captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 Middle East War.

One official said Netanyahu attacked just about everything Washington is supporting in the peace process.

The official said Christopher occasionally sought to reply to Netanyahu's arguments, but mostly he just listened.

Relations between Christopher and Likud were strained even before the meeting began when the Americans rejected Netanyahu's request for press and television cameras to record the meeting's start.

In a joint news conference with Christopher, Arafat insisted that his police are already taking effective action to prevent terrorist attacks on Israelis.

"We have succeeded (in preventing) recently 10 attempts at terrorist activities," he said. "And we have arrested them and they are in jail. All of this has been informed to Israeli authorities and nothing has been mentioned in their mass media.

"Don't forget that these kinds of (terrorist) groups have been established by the help of the Israeli government before my arrival," he said in reference to persistent rumors that the government of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir promoted the creation in the late 1980s of Hamas, a violence-prone Islamic group, as a counterweight to the PLO, a strategy that went drastically wrong.

Christopher underlined Israel's demand that the Palestinians exert maximum effort against terrorism, reminding Arafat that the Palestinians have yet to put on trial or to convict a single terrorist suspect.

But Christopher also focused on U.S. plans to help the Palestinian regime pay its bills and provide some of the fruits of peace to the public in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho.

"The United States is leading the effort to marshal international resources for the Palestinian Authority," he said. "In the coming weeks, we will be making a push with our partners to see that previous pledges are paid . . . and that new commitments are made to assist the Palestinian Authority."

A senior U.S. official said that, as of last month, the international community was about $36 million behind in payments to the authority's day-to-day government fund. Payments for development projects also lag.

The official said some money has come in this month, but many potential donors are still far short of their pledges. He declined to identify them but hinted that Washington may name names if money does not begin coming in soon.

Christopher said the U.S. government--which is current on its $100-million-a-year pledge of cash and loan guarantees--will reprogram about $40 million this year to concentrate on big infrastructure projects with maximum effect, especially in creating jobs.

An official said the projects will include an $11-million storm sewer for Gaza, $4 million to pave Gaza's muddy roads and $4 million to upgrade its dilapidated housing.

Although Christopher had little new money to offer, he said the Agriculture Department will send a team to Gaza to give technical advice to farmers, and the Administration will give Palestinian police 200 trucks from military surplus.

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