- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

JERUSALEM A senior aide to Israel's prime minister voiced support yesterday for a faltering Middle East peace conference proposed by the United States, even if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attends.
But Israel also said it was constructing a $300 million buffer zone along dozens of miles parallel to its old Green Line international border, aimed at blocking the suicide bombers still plaguing the nation.
Danny Ayalon, a foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, also said in an interview that Israel will never accept Palestinian demands that up to 4 million Arab refugees and their descendants be allowed to live inside Israel.
Speaking yesterday as Israeli troops ended a return incursion into Bethlehem and swept the West Bank cities of Tulkarem and Qalqilya, Mr. Ayalon signaled that Israel is ready to talk but not to give in to important Arab demands.
Even on the thorny question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza which polls show a majority of Israelis are ready to give up in return for peace the Sharon government refuses to say it will give up any of them.
"The settlements are a great, noble exercise returning Jews to their homeland. It was not Arab land but barren land they developed," said Mr. Ayalon.
Asked whether the Israeli settlements should remain in place, he answered: "No question."
The Sharon adviser also said that he felt "the prime minister should go" to the conference proposed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Although the conference of Europe, Russia, the United States, Israel and Arab states was to be held at the foreign ministerial level to avoid an Arafat-Sharon meeting, Mr. Ayalon would not rule out Mr. Arafat's participation.
"We see great need for Palestinian participation, but I wouldn't go beyond that," he said. "The issue of participation would not be a hindrance once all else is in place."
There has still been no decision on the timing, venue or agenda for the conference.
Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said in Washington last week that the conference should copy the success of the Madrid peace conference convened by Secretary of State James A. Baker III in 1991.
That first ever meeting of most Arab countries and Israel, in the presence of U.S. and Russian leaders, set the stage for the 1993 Oslo peace accord and the 1994 Israeli-Jordan peace treaty.
But Mr. Beilin agreed with Mr. Ayalon that Israel can never permit the admission to Israel of all the Palestinians who claim it as their home. Mr. Arafat's demand for a refugee return emerged unexpectedly at Camp David in 2000 as the largest obstacle to a peace agreement.
"The Arab refugees were kept in subhuman conditions for 50 years by Arab leaders while Israel absorbed more than 1 million [Jewish] refugees from Arab countries who came here penniless," he said.
Continuing suicide attacks on Israel over the weekend one of which was foiled when a guard at a Tel Aviv cafe shot and killed the driver of a speeding, bomb-laden car have convinced many Israelis that the six-week military incursion into the West Bank has not ended terrorism.
Leading military analyst Ze'ev Schiff wrote in Ha'aretz newspaper yesterday that the attacks prove that "Saudi pressure on Arafat has failed." Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah promised President Bush that he would help rein in Palestinian terrorism.

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