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Britain Plans New Mideast Initiative to Include PLO

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Britain believes the current talks on Palestinian autonomy between Israel, Egypt and the United States will fail and it may launch its own Middle East initiative before May 26, the deadline for the tripartite talks under the Camp David agreement.

The new initiative, for which Britain would seek maximum support from other West European countries, would open the door to participation by the Palestine Liberation Organization in the peace process. Foreign Office experts are believed to be drawing up a formula for simultaneous mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestinians.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Britain is floating a two part proposal among its European dillies. The first part would entail an amendment to UN Security Council Resolution 242, the November 1967 document calling for Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized boundaries and mutual recognition by Israel and the neighboring states. The addition would be designed to accept in unequivocal terms “the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The second and more important part would be to convene a new international conference in order to deprive the Soviet Union of its role of co-chairman at a reconvened Geneva conference, an alternative setting would be sought.

Britain’s chief motive for launching a new initiative is to capitalize on the strong anti-Soviet mood sweeping the Moslem and Arab world following Moscow’s intervention in Afghanistan. Since this is also an American objective, it is assumed here that the U.S. would not be adverse to Britain and other European states giving their assistance over the Palestinian question.

THATCHER’S POSITION UNCERTAIN

There have already been several public signals about Britain’s softer attitude toward the PLO. The most recent was a statement on January 30 by Foreign Office Minister of State Douglas Hurd that the PLO “would have to be involved in the peace process.” However, it remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, will give this new policy her full endorsement. Known as “the iron maiden,” for her stem denunciation of Soviet internal and foreign policies, the may well regard the PLO as a Trojan Horse for Soviet expansionism and share some of Israel’s reservations about the dangers of an “Arafat State” on the West Bank.

At the same time, the has great respect for Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary, in the wake of his achievement of a peace agreement for Rhodesia which had eluded Britain for the past 15 years. While Mrs. Thatcher is strong on political principles, Lord Carrington is more of a pragmatist who relies on briefs provided by his advisers rather than innovating his own solutions. Another important figure is Sir Ion Gilmour, the Cabinet Minister who speaks on foreign affairs in the House of Commons. He has long been closely associated with the Arab cause and will give strong support to a pro-Palestinian shift in British policy.

In the House debate on January 28, Sir Ian spoke of “the importance of solving the problem of Palestine,” and “the urgency of the need to find a just and comprehensive settlement.” He also pledged that Britain would consider with her allies how to help the peace process forward.

One of the pro-Arab speakers in that debate was Denis Walters, a Conservative MP who co-authored with Gilmour a series of anti-Israel articles in the London Times following the Six-Day War.

Besides talking in Parliament of “a fully independent Palestine government” on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Walters suggested that the United Nations Palestine Conciliation Commission should be revived. The commission, consisting of the United States, France and Turkey, has been dormant, if not defunct, since the 1950s. But according to Walters, its original terms of reference would enable it to deal with the PLO as well as with the Syrians in promoting a settlement over the Golan Heights.

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