The Latest Peace Talks: a Different Time, the Same Place, Renewed Hopes

After a hiatus of 131 days, the Jarring peace talks got off to a fresh start this week. Once again, the Middle East crisis–its tragic consequences and ominous global ramifications–was focused on the person of Gunnar V. Jarring, the Swedish diplomat lifted from a cozy Ambassadorial post in Moscow three years ago to undertake on behalf of the United Nations what seems to be a true-to-life “Mission: Impossible”–to bring about peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Is there anything fresh about the Jarring talks which resumed at UN headquarters here on Tuesday? For more than two years, Dr. Jarring pursued his mission in the Middle East and in New York. But the record of his labors, disclosed in detail for the first time in Secretary General U Thant’s 40-page progress report to the Security Council released three days ago, had little to show in the way of progress. For all his tenacity and infinite patience Jarring achieved little more than a commitment to paper–volumes of it–of the fundamental differences between Israelis and Arabs that have spelled three wars in the last 20 years and thousands of smaller blood-letting incidents. Will the Jarring talks, 1971, be a re-run of the earlier phases of the Jarring mission? They are not direct talks. Jarring meets separately with the representatives of Israel and its Arab foes, separately conveys the views of one side to the other–back and forth–as he did so often in the past when his headquarters was in Nicosia, Cyprus, and he commuted diligently between Cairo, Jerusalem, Amman and Beirut.

CLIMATE AND NEW EVENTS MAY CONTRIBUTE TO SUBSTANTIVE NEGOTIATIONS

If nothing came of the Jarring mission then, what can be expected of it now? The Jewish Telegraphic Agency put that question to diplomatic sources at the UN this week. One answer was that Ambassador Jarring will “save a lot of mileage.” But there was more. Diplomats agree that Jarring’s modus operandi has not changed. What has changed is the climate and the slow, inexorable movement of events that constitute history. For one thing there is a cease-fire now between Israel, Egypt and Jordan which did not exist a year ago. For another there is the American peace initiative–the Rogers Rescue Mission of June, 1970 which engendered the cease-fire and brought about the current talks. There have been dramatic changes in the Mideast. Nasser is dead and his successors, still largely an unknown quantity, may in the long run prove more flexible. In Jordan, King Hussein, once the occupant of the shakiest throne in the East, has emerged a firm master in his own house after a bloody civil war in which his forces decisively trounced the Palestinian guerrillas. There are new regimes in Syria and Iraq, seemingly less radical and less violence-prone than before. In Israel there has been a welcome relief from daily casualty lists. The bombing of settlements has almost ceased and terrorist incursions are relatively few.

All of these developments contribute to what diplomats call a better climate for substantive negotiations. As one official told the JTA, the outcome of the renewed Jarring talks will depend on the attitude of the parties concerned. The parties of course, are still a world apart. All of them ostensibly accept the UN Security Council’s Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967 which is both script and scripture of the Mideast peace efforts. But they persist in interpreting it differently. To the Israelis it is a framework for peace negotiations that, hopefully, will determine “agreed and secure” borders to which Israel will withdraw its forces after a formal treaty is signed, sealed and delivered. To the Arabs it is a command to Israel to get out of the territories it occupied in the June 1967 war, after which, presumably, the details of non-belligerency, if not peace, can be worked out. Those antipodal views formed the substance of Jarring’s conversations with Israeli and Arab leaders during his many months in the Mideast. They were also reflected in the replies to 14 questions that the UN mediator put to Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon in March 1969.

Significantly, Israeli political circles cautioned this week against attaching “excessive validity” to the replies given Jarring 22 months ago by Egypt, Jordan and Israel itself. They should, these quarters said, “be examined in the light of changed circumstances.” Here again was a diplomatic hint that there has been a change of climate which is not likely to be lost on Jarring. In the past he did nothing to break the ice, but this might not be so in the current talks. Criticism of his bland role was implied in remarks by Britain’s Prime Minister Edward Heath during a recent television interview in Washington. Heath suggested that the UN Special Representative stop being a “letter-carrier” and take some meaningful initiative of his own. Jarring’s mandate derives from Resolution 242, a document which in its marvelous ambiguity reflects the special talents of the British diplomats who drafted it. The open-ended nature of 242 allows Dr. Jarring flexibility in the interpretation of his role. He was, according to the resolution, “to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution.”

PROLONGED TALKS WOULD KEEP PARTIES OCCUPIED AND HOPEFULLY, KEEP MIDEAST CEASE-FIRE INTACT

There is nothing here to suggest that Jarring’s mandate must be revised if he is to advance substantive proposals of his own to both parties. In fact he has considerable leeway which could make the Jarring talks, 1971, markedly different from what they were in the past. Despite this, diplomats on all sides are frankly skeptical if not altogether passimistic about the revived peace talks. They all agree that the Wilsonian credo of “open diplomacy openly arrived at” belongs to a bygone era. If there is to be any genuine bargaining it must be away from the glare of publicity, they say. But that will be difficult to achieve in the busy UN back-yard. The Israelis are hopeful that the talks may be removed at some stage to a quieter spot, closer to home. They also hope that the talks will be elevated to the foreign ministerial level which, they say, would indicate greater seriousness on the Arab part. Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban has been designated to represent his government. The Arab representative, so far, are all of ambassadorial rank. For the time being, Eban’s alternate, Israel’s UN Ambassador Yosef Tekoah, will be carrying the ball. And for the time being, most diplomats feel, it is enough to get the Jarring talks rolling again. They expect the talks to drag on and on and, in some respects, would welcome endless procedural wrangling. After all, it would keep the parties occupied and would keep the Mideast cease-fire from coming apart.

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