TEL AVIV (March 11) - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu revealed yesterday that a "message" has been transmitted by the Palestinian Authority to the effect that Chairman Yasser Arafat is willing to participate in a summit conference.
"I heard a message in this direction," Netanyahu said when asked about the prospects of his proposal for a face-to-face meeting with Arafat. "We will examine it in the next few days."
Netanyahu spoke at a joint news conference with Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan in Tel Aviv.
Hassan, who conferred with Arafat in Ramallah on Monday, denied that he has been acting as a "mediator" or "representative." But he said that his session with Arafat and other Palestinian leaders was "fruitful" and "upbeat."
Carefully choosing his words in an apparent bid to uphold the confidences given him by the two sides, Hassan said that "there certainly was a commitment [on the Palestinians' part] to the rejuvenation of the peace process."
He reacted to a question about whether Arafat considers Netanyahu "too tough" as a negotiator by drawing from his knowledge of the Bible. He quoted the Hebrew saying, taken from Proverbs 18:21, "Mavet v'haim b'yad halashon" (Death and life depend on the tongue).
Netanyahu picked up immediately from where he left off, saying, "We heard certain things. I prefer of course to adhere to the framework of our contacts."
Earlier, at a special cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that he intends to honor the Oslo Accords and demands that the "other party do so as well."
Briefing the ministers about his trip to Spain, Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom, Netanyahu said he emphasized in his talks there that the fulfillment of commitments made by the Palestinians is the immediate and necessary condition for resuming the peace process.
The cabinet communique quoted him as saying Israel is trying to advance the work of the interim agreement committees and contending that the European countries can contribute to this by encouraging the Palestinians to reach agreement with Israel on these matters.
National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon said that the transfer of up to 6 percent of Area C to the Palestinian Authority would not cause excessive damage to Israel's security. But he said "substantial damage would be caused" by the transfer of 9 percent. He referred to the military installations and strategic positions on the slopes overlooking the Jordan River which would be forfeited.
He warned that the PA is stockpiling Strella and Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles for use against planes taking off or landing at Ben-Gurion Airport and said this is sufficient reason to hold the terrain in question.
Sharon and Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, who visited Jordan on Sunday and Monday respectively, were present at the joint news conference and heard Hassan and Netanyahu refer repeatedly to the positive outcome of their talks in Amman.
They also reported to the cabinet on their contacts in Jordan.
Netanyahu cited Hassan's rejoinder to those who have lost hope or confidence in the peace process, be they Palestinian, Jordanian, or Israeli: "Lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness. Today we lit a candle," Netanyahu said.
Among the joint projects agreed upon by Hassan and Netanyahu were: reconstruction of the Allenby Bridge; utilizing funds contributed by Japan; analyzing the economic feasibility of constructing a canal between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea; construction of a railway between the Dead Sea and Red Sea "for the mutual benefit" of Israel and Jordan; and the landing of more international flights to Eilat at Akaba Airport in accordance with a decision taken on March 1 by the Jordanian government.