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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Barak Tells Arafat He Will Follow Rabin's Path

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak telephoned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Friday, their first talk since just after Barak was elected six weeks ago, said officials from both sides.

Barak told Arafat that he would follow in the footsteps of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to end the Israeli-Arab conflict and bring peace to the region, Barak's office said in a statement. Arafat congratulated Barak on his coalition, and the two leaders agreed to meet shortly after Barak's government takes office next week, the statement said.

The two had not talked since Arafat called Barak six weeks ago to congratulate him on his May 17 election win. In the meantime, Barak had been criticized by the Palestinians for not making contact with Arafat again.

Barak aides said it would be inappropriate for him to have any policy talks before he took office.

In Friday's telephone call, Barak assured Arafat that he would conduct negotiations simultaneously with the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese, apparently trying to assuage Palestinian fear that he would move forward on the Syrian track and leave them behind.

Barak, however, took exception Friday to what he saw as President Bill Clinton's suggestion that Palestinian refugees should be able to return to homes left behind when Israel was created in 1948. Barak said that Clinton's remark f made Thursday in Washington at a joint news conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak f was "not acceptable to the prime minister-elect."

Clinton said at the news conference that Palestinian refugees should be free to live "wherever they like," which was taken by the Israeli leader as support for Palestinians to reclaim homes in Israel.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said the Clinton administration gave assurances that it hadn't changed its position that the issue should be resolved through negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Barak is to present his coalition government to parliament for a vote of confidence next week. With lawmakers' approval, he is to take office immediately.

Earlier Friday, Barak met with leaders of parties representing Israel's minority Arab citizens, who did not join his coalition, and heard some tough words of criticism.

Though they back Barak's intention to reinvigorate peace talks with the Palestinians, the parties charged that Barak missed a historic opportunity to name Israel's first Arab Cabinet minister. A leader of one of the Arab parties said they would not support the new government in its first vote of confidence next week, though Arab voters heavily backed Barak.