Clinton, Netanyahu and Arafat to meet Tuesday
Palestinians affirm Israel's right to existDecember 14, 1998
Web posted at: 3:47 p.m. EST (2047 GMT)
GAZA CITY, Gaza (CNN) -- President Clinton will hold a joint meeting at the Israeli-Gaza border Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
The meeting was announced Monday, after Palestinian leaders removed a contentious issue dating back to 1964 by approving a measure affirming the right of Israel to exist.
Israeli officials welcomed the move, but cautioned that more action must be taken to revive the faltering peace process.
Rising from their seats and voting by raising their hands, the Palestine National Council voted nearly unanimously to remove clauses from the Palestine Liberation Organization charter that call for the destruction of Israel.
"I hope this will close the chapter forever," said Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who spoke at length in favor of the action.
Following Arafat's speech, President Bill Clinton, the first U.S. president to visit Palestinian territory, addressed the assembly.
Applauding Arafat for moving toward peace with Israel, Clinton said, "I know the way is often difficult and frustrating, but you have come to this point through a commitment to peace and negotiations."
More than 450 members of the Palestine National Council attended the meeting, along with hundreds of other Palestinian notables, including former guerrilla fighters and suspected terrorists.
The PNC meeting was one of the requirements of the Wye River peace accord that Clinton helped negotiate. The accord says the delegates were to "reaffirm" a letter from Arafat to Clinton in which he lists the clauses of the PLO founding charter that are considered null and void.
Israel welcomes move, wants more action
Netanyahu called the decision "important," but asked for additional Palestinian actions to move the peace process forward.
"I hope they speedily comply with other commitments," he said.
Despite the vote, Israel held fast to a recent decision to continue holding thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
The Palestinians consider them prisoners of war and have demanded their release.
Netanyahu said Palestinians must stop West Bank violence and publicly withdraw from plans to proclaim a state in May 1999 before the peace process can continue.
Israel has indicated it would not pull back troops on Friday, as required under the Wye accord, even if the PNC session met its expectations.
One Palestinian officials expressed disappointment with the Israeli prime minister.
"We ask Mr. Netanyahu to stop looking for excuses and pretexts for not going with the agreement," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.
"We urge Netanyahu to give this a chance by starting the implementation of his commitments," he added. "We won't accept any logic ... any excuses."
The Palestinians would "not accept any delay. This agreement is unique because it has a time-frame," he said.
'Serious and willing'
Delegates at the PNC assembly said the Palestinians were committed to peace.
"We are serious and willing to go ahead and achieve peace for both Israel and the Palestinians," said former guerrilla fighter Abu Sharif, who reportedly plotted airplane hijackings in the 1970s and recruited the terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
Others in the audience included Mohammed Oudeh, implicated by Israeli and American intelligence experts in planning the hostage-taking at the 1972 Munich Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes dead.
Most of the delegates were middle-aged men in dark suits, many of them graying and balding. Some wore gold-embroidered caps of the Palestinian security forces, others traditional white headdresses.
The Palestinian Authority permitted Israeli TV stations to broadcast live from the Shawa Center and Israeli reporters to move freely to interview delegates.
In Jerusalem, legislators crowded around a TV set in the cafeteria of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, to watch the proceedings.
Correspondent Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.
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