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PM complains about PA security
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After months of praising the work of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a delegation of US senators on Sunday that while active against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the PA security forces "have trouble going against their own renegades."

Netanyahu was referring to the recent murder near Shavei Shomron of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai by members of Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

"They are showing timidity about addressing their own renegades," he told Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and John Thune (R-South Dakota).

The four senators were here for the day as part of a regional tour that took them as well to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Government sources said the threat of the US using economic leverage - such as withholding loan guarantees - to place pressure on Israel was not raised in the one-hour conversation. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, when asked last Wednesday in a television interview what "sticks" the US had in its arsenal against Israel, raised the notion of withholding loan guarantees, although he quickly said this was not the direction the US wanted to go in.

Lieberman, after saying that an administration official had already disavowed Mitchell's statement, said that in his opinion "any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel to the negotiating table by denying Israel support, will not pass the Congress of the United States. In fact, the Congress will stop any attempt to do that. I don't think we will come to that point."

McCain was equally unequivocal, saying that this type of pressure would not be helpful "and I don't agree with it."

McCain added that he was sure that the administration would make it clear in the future that this was not its policy.

Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said they had received no signals whatsoever that the US administration was considering such a move. This did not prevent some cabinet ministers, such as Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, from addressing the issue before the weekly cabinet meeting.

"We don't need to use those guarantees, we get along fine without them," Steinitz said. He said that the US and Israel just recently reached a new agreement on the guarantees, and there was no condition whatsoever placed on them. "Israel did and is doing everything, including making gestures that are not easy, to re-start the negotiations [with the Palestinians]," he said. "I have no indication that they are going to pressure us with the guarantees."

Sa'ar said that it needed to be clear that Israel would act according to its interests, and "not as a function of its relations with other countries."

During his meeting with the senators, Netanyahu expressed frustration with the continued Palestinian rejection of negotiations, and said the Palestinian Authority was trying to "internationalize the conflict" in the hope that the European Union and UN Security Council would pressure Israel.

"In certain quarters in the international community," Sa'ar said, "Israel is seen as being guilty even before it has been proven guilty." He said that the international community must "stop coddling" the Palestinians and send a message that it expected them to return to the negotiations.

Netanyahu also said he was "not going to run away" from the core issues in the negotiations, but that in his mind "the ultimate core issue is the acceptance of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. It is not about settlements; it is about the existence of a Jewish state."

The prime minister's message seemed to register with the senators, because at the press conference both McCain and Lieberman called for an immediate resumption of talks, and for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state.

"I have come to the conclusion that the prime minister of the State of Israel is right, it is time to sit down without preconditions and begin serious negotiations to bring about a lasting and permanent peace," McCain said. He added that he didn't think "it is much to ask to recognize the right of a country to exist as part of a way to reach an agreement with one's neighbors."

Before the meeting Netanyahu told the cabinet he regarded "very seriously the recent spate of mortar and rocket fire at Israel" from the Gaza strip, and stressed that "any firing at our territory will be responded to strongly and immediately."

Reiterating a theme that the Prime Minister's Office brought up with Washington last week, Netanyahu said that the problem was not only rockets, but an increase in incitement from the PA and its leaders.

Basing himself on information provided by the Palestinian Media Watch, Netanyahu said that "incitement continues in the Palestinian media and education system; in its official media outlets and in the schools under its supervision. These serious actions represent a harsh violation of the Palestinians' international obligation to prevent incitement. I say to the chairman of the Palestinian Authority [Mahmoud Abbas]: Stop the incitement. This is not how peace is made."


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