Cabinet Statement on Palestinian Issue Seen As Paving the Way for Peace Talks with Jordan

The statement issued here yesterday after a six-hour debate in the Cabinet on “the Palestine question” hardly marked a new departure in Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the statement contained a significant sentence which might well in the course of time prove to have marked an historic watershed. “The government,” the statement said, “will work towards negotiations for a peace agreement with Jordan.”

This sentence, coupled with the total absence in the Cabinet statement of any mention of future talks with Egypt, has led many observers here to the conclusion that Israel now seeks negotiations with King Hussein on the future of the West Bank as the next stage of the Geneva peace process.

One minister told me privately that his reading of the statement and his assessment of the Cabinet debate was that there was now a “Cabinet consensus” that talks with Jordan were as desirable at this time as talks with Egypt. The previous preference, often voiced in recent weeks by Premier Yitzhak Rabin and other ministers, for another round of talks with Egypt and another partial Sinai settlement before any talks with Jordan was no longer Israel policy, this minister said.

If this construction of the Cabinet statement is correct, then it is significant indeed. And its significance is inevitably enhanced if it is seen in juxtaposition with the joint Cairo communique of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan last week recognizing Jordan as the representative of the Palestinians residing in Jordan (the great majority of Palestinians) with the Palestine Liberation Organization representing only those living elsewhere.

MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE

Some seasoned observers here attach a more than coincidental reading to the time-proximity of the Sadat-Hussein and the Israel Cabinet statements. It is as if Hussein, immeasurably strengthened by Sadat’s recognition of his claim to represent the Palestinians, is now further boosted by Israel’s firm restatement of its long-held belief that he and only he is a legitimate and practical partner for negotiations on the twin issues of the West Bank and the Palestinian problem.

Some observers here would even claim to detect some form of coordination between the two statements of position. However that may be, there is no doubt that the Cairo statement greatly influenced the Israel Cabinet debate. For someone like Information Minister Aharon Yariv, who only 10 days earlier had declared that Israel would negotiate with Palestinian organizations were they to recognize Israel and disavow terrorism, the Cairo communique was apparently enough to change his mind.

Yariv voted with the majority–rejecting any possibility of talks with Palestinian organizations under any circumstances. Any talks, as the majority statement said, would be held “between Israel and Jordan.” Yariv explained to newsmen later that this position definitely ruled out any separate talks ever with Palestinian organizations. It did not necessarily rule out talks with a Palestinian grouping which might appear in Geneva as part of the Jordanian delegation. That problem would have to be examined by the Cabinet if and when it arose, he said.

That problem, in fact, was the core of the difference between the Cabinet majority and the proponents of the minority draft offered by Tourism Minister Moshe Kol (Independent Liberal Party) and Health Minister Victor Shemtov (Mapam.) One of the minority proponents stressed later that the draft certainly did not urge separate talks with Palestinian groups, but only advocated talks with such Palestinians as would recognize Israel and disavow their aim of destroying it within the framework of talks with Jordan.

ONLY TWO STATES POSSIBLE

The minority, this proponent explained, sought a positive instead of a negative statement of Israel’s position. They felt that to say Israel would talk with certain Palestinians, under certain conditions, within the framework of negotiations with Jordan, was preferable from the standpoint of image and information efforts than the blanket declaration that Israel would not negotiate with terror groups and would negotiate solely with Jordan.

The majority, however, felt otherwise. Its main concern was that the statement should make clear beyond doubt that Israel would not hold separate talks with the Palestinians. This, the majority believed, followed from the basic premise, to which the Cabinet unanimously subscribed, that there was no possibility of a third, independent, Palestinian state in addition to Israel and Jordan.

The envisaged peace, the statement stresses–and to this all ministers agreed — “will be founded on the existence of two independent states only: Israel, with its capital United Jerusalem, and a Jordanian-Palestinian Arab state….This state will provide for expression of identity of the Jordanians and the Palestinians….”

In recognizing the existence of a Palestinian “identity” the Rabin Cabinet had adopted a slightly new tone in comparison with Golda Meir’s Palestinian policy. But its insistence on two states only, and on talks with Jordan only, represents a continuation of the previous government’s basic positions on the Palestinian issue

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