JERUSALEM (Jan. 14)
Declaring that he has come here “primarily to focus on the peace process, especially the autonomy talks,” Secretary of State Alexander Haig plunged into a series of meetings with Israel’s top leaders today. He spent two hours in a working session with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, followed by a meeting with Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and a 2 1/2 hour meeting with Premier Menachem Begin this evening at his home.
At his meeting with Shamir, Haig presented a long list of detailed questions on Israel’s positions with respect to autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli officials had already prepared a working paper for Haig setting forth the government’s views and elaborated verbally in great detail, according to reports.
Haig, who spent two days in Egypt before visiting Israel, told reporters on his plane from Cairo that there was some optimism that the differences between Israel and Egypt over autonomy could be bridged. But he cautioned that the process would need months of groundwork.
NO DEADLINE FOR AGREEMENT
Haig reportedly said, during his meeting with Shamir, that there was “no deadline” for agreement but stressed the importance of making substantial progress before Israel completes its withdrawal from Sinai next April. Haig made similar statements in Cairo yesterday.
He told reporters, on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, that working teams of Israel, Egypt and the U.S. had made “important progress” until now and that President Reagan has “concluded the time has come to see whether or not it is possible to bring about” a breakthrough.
U.S. TO MAKE DETERMINATIONS ON ITS POLICY
Haig said, after meeting with Begin, that the Reagan Administration would be “making determinations” on its Middle East policy in the coming weeks on the basis of the assessments he makes of his visit to Egypt and Israel. “We will go home …and assess the positions we’ve heard in both capitals and return to discuss them further,” he told reporters here.
He said the process of “making determinations” could include “a consideration of (appointing) a high-level negotiator, or we could consider … something different but hopefully more effective.” It was uncertain whether Haig planned to return to the region himself or to have a ranking American envoy continue the task. He made it apparent that he did not intend to present proposals of his own on this trip and regards it as a fact-finding mission and a boost to the lagging autonomy talks.
DIDN’T BRING ANY FORMULAS
“We didn’t come here with any formulae. We’re here to be a catalyst, a full partner,” Haig said. He said that the U.S., having been intimately involved in the talks so far, was fully aware of the “Important differences” that divide the parties.
The Secretary’s session with Begin was partly in private conversation. They were joined later by their aides and other ministers. Haig confirmed reports that he would be sending Nicholas. Veliotes, Assist ant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and a former Ambassador to Jordan, to Amman tomorrow to sound out the Jordanians on the possibility that they might reverse their negative attitude toward the Camp David peace process.
ISRAEL WON’T BUDGE ON VOTING RIGHTS
Kol Israel Radio reported today that during the Haig-Shamir meeting the Israelis remained adamantly negative on the issue of voting rights for East Jerusalem Arabs in the autonomy elections. Shamir last night angrily dismissed a suggestion made by former Premier Yitzhak Rabin in a position paper prepared for discussion by the Labor Party’s Central Committee, that Jerusalem Arabs be allowed to vote in nearby townships such as Bethlehem but not to run for election themselves in West Bank localities.
Shamir said Israel was not proposing to make any further concessions. He charged that proposals by Rabin and other opposition leaders “weakened our image.” Rabin made it clear that his views were his own. Apparently they are not shared by Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres.
PROPOSALS BY RABIN
Rabin proposed, among other things, that the autonomy talks should be concluded before the April 26 Sinai withdrawal deadline and that the source of authority for the West Bank self-governing bodies should be the Camp David agreements, not the military administration as proposed by the Begin government. He said Israel should be more flexible on the issue of control of land and water resources.
According to Rabin, every effort should be made to settle the outstanding autonomy problems by April 26, but if the Egyptians do not agree to compromise, Israel should “review its relations with Egypt” to determine what course Cairo might follow after Sinai is returned. He stressed that he was not suggesting that Israel renege on its agreement to pull out of Sinai if the Egyptians are not more forth coming.