Palestinians urge Arab states to freeze relations with Israel

JERUSALEM — Two Palestinian Council members urged Arab states this week to freeze their normalization of ties with Israel.

Hanan Ashrawi and Haider Abdel Shafi said Arab leaders convening in Cairo later this month should suspend any further development of ties with the Jewish state until Israel recognizes the Palestinian right to an independent state.

Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will continue the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but that he opposes an independent state.

The Palestinian call for a freeze on Arab normalization with Israel came in the wake of a mini-summit of Arab leaders over the weekend which brought a warning that Israel must proceed with the Oslo peace process.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said Monday he expected 20 Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to attend an Arab summit meeting in Cairo June 21. It would be the first full Arab summit in six years.

The 20 leaders represent all Arab League members, except Iraq — because of objections from Persian Gulf states — and Somalia, which has no recognized government.

Moussa said Egypt wanted the summit to take a positive approach. "We do not support taking a negative attitude unless we face negative attitudes from the other side," he reportedly said.

In the wake of Netanyahu's election victory May 29, Arab leaders have expressed deep concern that the new Israeli government would depart from pursuing a peace process based on the principle of "land for peace."

Arab leaders warned Netanyahu this week that tension and violence would ensue in the region if the new Israeli government deviates from the "principles of the peace process."

But Israeli officials said the Arab leaders were prejudging the new government before it was formed and that they were disregarding repeated statements Likud leader Netanyahu has made pledging his commitment to the process.

"It is unacceptable that the Arab leaders form an opinion and issue such a statement before the new government has even taken power," Israeli President Ezer Weizman said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio.

After their weekend summit in Damascus, Syrian President Hafez Assad, Mubarak and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah issued a joint statement calling on Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories.

Any departure by Israel from the land-for-peace principles pursued by the outgoing Labor government would be considered a threat and return the region to "tension and violence."

They also called on Turkey to re-evaluate the military pact it signed in February with Israel. That agreement, which provided for joint maneuvers and Israeli training flights over Turkey, drew sharp criticism from several Muslim countries, including Egypt.

After the Arab meeting, U.S. President Bill Clinton urged the participants to reserve judgment on Netanyahu's government.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Sunday that Clinton had a "very constructive" 10-minute phone call aboard Air Force One with Mubarak.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu postponed his first trip to the United States as prime minister to meet with Clinton until mid-July, after chances of his forming a ruling coalition waned.

Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu requested U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher come to Israel beforehand.

In another development, Syria's Assad met Sunday with the Qatari foreign minister and asked that the Persian Gulf state freeze the low-level economic ties it forged with Israel in April.

Qatar Sunday threatened to reassess its normalization with Israel if the Netanyahu government slows down the peace process. Shimon Peres visited Qatar in April and Israel has established an economic office in Doha, Qatar's capital.

While Netanyahu refused to comment on the weekend Arab summit, aides expressed dismay that the premier-elect's moderate tone in his speeches and statements last week was not repaid in kind.

"We are trying to make statements that build confidence, but there has been a clear escalation of rhetoric from the Arab side which is not conducive to progress in negotiations," one senior aide to Netanyahu said Sunday.

But Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Omar Rifai said Sunday it would be a mistake for Israelis to be worried by the upcoming pan-Arab summit.

"I don't believe any decision will be taken at this summit until we know the new policies of the new government, but rather there will be a positive call for peace," Rifai said. "This new government must be given a chance."