WASHINGTON (Jul. 21)
The State Department announcement last week that it was studying a list of Palestinians submitted by Jordan to see if any were acceptable to the United States for participation in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation for talks with the U.S. brought to mind the well-known song, “Santa Claus is coming to town.”
You could almost hear those words, “He’s making a list and going over it twice to see who has been naughty or nice.” The problem with the Jordanian list or any other such list of Palestinians is that there is little agreement by the parties involved over who is “nice.”
Israel is already on record as saying the entire list, selected by Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat and given by him to King Hussein of Jordan, is unacceptable.
The Reagan Administration was obviously piqued that Israel had publicly announced its rejection so soon. Robert Smalley, a State Department spokesman, said that while Israel will be consulted, neither it nor any other country will have a veto over the U.S. decison.
“Our decision will be taken in light of consultations with our friends in the area, but it will be our decision,” he asserted. He also stressed that progress toward a Mideast peace requires “mutual trust and full confidence.”
The U.S. was also unhappy with Israeli Premier Shimon Peres’ rejection, as unnecessary, a meeting between the U.S. and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation as a prelude to direct negotiations with Israel.
U.S. CITES NEED FOR ‘INCREMENTAL STEPS’
The State Department has repeatedly said that the U.S. will enter talks with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation only if it leads to direct negotiations between Israel and the joint Arab delegation. Smalley said the peace process will require “many incremental steps along the way, ” an apparent answer to Peres’ criticism.
The U.S. has also reaffirmed that the Palestinians on the joint delegation cannot be members of the PLO. “Our policy with meeting with the PLO is unchanged,” Smalley said on Friday. “The United States will not recognize or negotiate with the PLO as long as the PLO refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”
Hussein, during his visit to Washington last May, maintained that the PLO has assured him that it meets these conditions. But Administration officials stressed at the time that the U.S. wants an explicit public statement by the PLO.
While the U.S. refused to identify those on the Jordanian list, Arab sources have named seven persons, most of them either outright members of the PLO or the Palestine National Council (PNC). One of them is Khaled Al-Hassan, a founder of Al Fatah and the PNC’s chief spokesman on foreign affairs.
PROPOSED DELEGATION MEMBERS
(The Jerusalem Post, citing reliable sources, identified the seven persons as: Hanna Seniora, editor of the East Jerusalem daily Al-Fajer; Dr. Hatem Husseini, born in Jerusalem, the PLO’s unofficial representative in Washington; Sala Ta’amre, former commander of the Fatah youth corps in south Lebanon where he was captured by Israel in 1982, later became the recognized leader of the Ansar camp detainees and negotiated with Israeli officials over mass releases from the camp; Mohammed Sbeigh, secretary general of the PNC; Nabil Sha’ath, a close aide of Arafat; Fayez Abu Rahme, a leading Gaza lawyer; and Hassan.)
(In Jerusalem today, Peres told the Cabinet that he was awaiting clarifications from the U.S. regarding the list. He said that once he gets the clarifications, he might convene the Inner Cabinet to discuss them.)
In an interview with the Kuwait news agency last week, Hassan said a U.S. meeting with the joint delegation would be the first step toward U.S. recognition of the PLO. He said the Palestinian delegates on the joint group will represent the PLO.
The U.S. has maintained that there are members of the PNC who are not members of the PLO and with whom it can talk. However, Israel considers everyone on the PNC part of the PLO since the Council is the PLO’s legislative body.
Only two persons on the list live in the West Bank or Gaza — Rahme and Seniora. This is in keeping with Arafat’s policy of preventing inhabitants of the territories from being seen as independent spokesmen for the Palestinians.
Peres said he was not surprised by those on the list but by who was not on it. By meeting last week with Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij and Hikmat Al-Masri of Nablus, Peres was apparently signalling to Washington and Amman of the type of Palestinian leader Israel was willing to enter into negotiations with, moderates who live in the areas to be negotiated.
VIEW OF WEST BANK, GAZA PALESTINIANS
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, while mouthing support for the PLO, have publicly stated their acceptance of Israel and willingness to reach a solution through negotiations. Many have, at least privately, said that the hardline position of the PLO will not bring a longtime solution to their problems.
With Secretary of State George Shultz back from his visit to the Far East, and Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, returned from vacation, a decision on the list could come from the State Department soon.
But even if they approve the required four names from the list or get some additional names, it is difficult to see at the present how a U.S. meeting with a joint delegation will lead to direct negotiations this year as the U.S. is urging.
The PLO and Jordan have made it clear that they want an international meeting with all the Mideast parties involved and the five permanent members of the Security Council, which includes the Soviet Union. Hussein said in Washington that he needs an “international umbrella” to meet with Israel.
Both the U.S. and Israel reject an international conference and particularly reject Soviet involvement because of its lack of diplomatic relations with Israel and persecution of Soviet Jews, among other reasons.
But the USSR wants badly to be dealt in and on Friday a new ploy was revealed. Israel Radio reported that the Soviets have offered to restore diplomatic relations with Israel and allow unrestricted Jewish emigration if Israel returned the Golan Heights to Syria.
If this is a really serious proposal, not only does it pose a new dilemma for Israel, but it could mean that the next major step in the Mideast peace process could come next month when Shultz meets Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Helsinki or at the summit in November between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan. The Mideast was not even one of the announced topics for the summit.