- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

JERUSALEM Israel's prime minister said yesterday, in the clearest terms yet, that a Mideast peace treaty would produce a "viable Palestinian state," but that he would not make concessions to the Palestinians under the threat of violence.

In new rock-throwing clashes and gunbattles in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a Palestinian was killed and more than 50 were wounded.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat yesterday renewed a call for the deployment of a 2,000-strong U.N. protection force that would shield Palestinians against Israeli troops. Mr. Arafat said he would raise the demand when he meets with President Clinton at the White House tomorrow.

The U.N. Security Council was to discuss the Palestinian request today. The United States and Israel oppose an international force. However, U.S. officials did not say whether they would veto the proposal, and diplomats, including some from the United States, noted that international observers were dispatched in the past to the tense West Bank town of Hebron.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is to meet with Mr. Clinton on Sunday, sent a letter to heads of government worldwide to explain Israel's position. Mr. Barak said Israel has acted with utmost restraint, while the Palestinian Authority has been trying to "replace the peace process with an armed struggle."

The Israeli leader said he made far-reaching concessions during a Mideast summit at Camp David in July. "We could resume negotiations, which based on the ideas discussed at Camp David will lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state," Mr. Barak wrote, "or we can succumb to the route of violence and unilateral Palestinian action."

If the Palestinians choose violence, he warned, "Israel will be forced to take measures to ensure the security of our citizens."

In the past, Mr. Barak has said he would not rule out creation of a Palestinian state, but yesterday's statement was his clearest promise yet of eventual Palestinian independence. Mr. Barak's letter appeared, in part, aimed at undercutting possible world support for a unilateral Palestinian proclamation of independence.

Mr. Arafat has said 2000 was the year of Palestinian statehood. However, senior Palestinian officials have said Mr. Arafat would not declare a state unilaterally in the near future, including on Nov. 15, the 12th anniversary of a symbolic independence declaration the Palestinian leader made in exile.

A senior Israeli official, meanwhile, said Mr. Barak did not expect Mr. Clinton's latest initiative to lead to a resumption of peace talks. At best, the meetings could help reduce violence, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A truce negotiated last week has helped limit the scope of clashes. However, both sides have accused each other of breaking their promises. Israel has said Palestinian gunmen routinely fire on Israeli settlements and army posts after nightfall.

At Rachel's Tomb, an Israeli outpost in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, a 24-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli army snipers, military officials said. The man carried a gun and was about to open fire on soldiers, the officials said.

A gunbattle erupted at the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza, and more than 50 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, Palestinian doctors said.

More than 170 people have been killed in fighting since Sept. 28, most of them Palestinians, including several dozen minors. Israel has accused the Palestinians of sending children into the front lines of the clashes in a ploy to win the world's sympathy.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said yesterday that such allegations were "shameless" and that Israel should instead bring to justice soldiers involved in the killing of children.

The Palestinian information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, wrote in a letter to the Israeli human rights group Betselem that the Palestinian Authority is trying to keep those 16 and younger away from clashes. He said teachers were making their students aware of the possible dangers.

Israeli government spokesman Nachman Shai said Israel welcomed the policy "if it is applied."

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