WASHINGTON, D.C. - Peace demonstrators rallied in front of the White House Wednesday to protest Israel's violent provocations in the West Bank that have left 76 people dead and endangered the peace process.
The protest in Lafayette Park organized by a coalition of Arab American organizations took place as Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the White House for an emergency summit meeting called by President Clinton. As we went to press, the outcome of the meeting was not known.
The American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), one of the rally sponsors released the text of a letter to President Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali condemning Israel for opening a tunnel near Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, among Islam's holiest sites.
"This excavation is not only a direct threat to Muslim holy sites but it also deals yet another blow to the peace negotiations," declared the letter signed by ADC President Hala Maksoud. "It comes in a long line of Israeli violations, including the expansion of Jewish settlements and failure to abide by Palestinian-Israeli accords for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Hebron - a move now six months behind schedule."
The ADC letter called on the Clinton administration and the international community to condemn the excavation of the tunnel "and to demand that Israel desist from pursuing policies which are undermining the peace process ... Israel is creating a fait accompli, preempting final status negotiations and reinforcing exclusive Israeli sovereignty over a city sacred to Moslems, Christians and Jews."
Gus Hall, national chair of the Communist Party USA, condemned Israeli government provocations. "If you elect an ultra-right candidate, he's going to follow ultra-right policies," Hall said. "The peace process has been in reverse since Day One of the Netanhayu government."
Hall said, "Israel did not live up to any of the terms of the peace agreement and went in the opposite direction until it finally blew up." The American people support President Clinton's effort to save the peace process, Hall said. Israel's attempts to scuttle the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement "must be reversed. The peace process is the right direction. It's going too slowly but it's still in the right direction."
Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole launched a sniping attack on Clinton and met with Netanyahu. "Our friend, Israel, must not be asked to make concessions as a means of restoring order," said Dole's written statement. "The government of Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves the full support of the United States at this moment of crisis."
Netanyahu's Likud government forged ahead with plans to open the tunnel despite clear warnings that it would provoke violence. Israel had assembled heavily-armed occupation forces at the tunnel, indicating that they were spoiling for a fight.
Reuters quoted an Israeli commander identified only as Lieutenant Col. Avi that "indiscriminate shooting" by Jewish "settlers and our forces" triggered the violence. When the Israelis opened fire, Palestinian police returned the fire in self defense and unarmed Palestinians hurled stones at the Israelis. At least 66 Palestinians died and hundreds have been wounded. At least 11 Israelis died.
Even during the emergency summit, Israel has continued to escalate the crisis, deploying tanks, Cobra helicopters and sniper squads in the West Bank and Gaza in preparation for a full-scale military attack.
Netanyahu rejected in advance any measures to ease the crisis - such as complying with Israel's pledge to withdraw from Hebron, lifting the blockade that is strangling the Palestinian economy or closing the tunnel. The violence capped months in which Netanyahu has openly flouted the terms of the Oslo Interim Peace Agreement signed by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat at the White House with President Clinton looking on.
A Zionist fanatic assassinated Rabin, opening the way for Netanyahu's election and Likud's moves to wreck the agreement. The agreement requires Israel to withdraw its occupation forces from the West Bank town of Hebron and release thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in preparation for a final agreement in which the Palestinian people are demanding statehood.
Israel's total isolation was reflected in a Sept. 29 U.N. Security Council Resolution, approved 14 to 0 with the U.S. abstaining, condemning Israel for opening the tunnel. It was the first U.N. debate on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis since 1992.
The New York Times reported 50 speakers "accused Israel of stalling peace efforts while allowing tensions to build." French Foreign Minister Herbe de Charette told the emergency session, "Opening the tunnel is less serious that the other measures that have affected the daily life of the Palestinian people, closure of territories, destruction of houses and enlargement of Jewish settlements."
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