LONDON (Jan. 27)
Israeli Premier Shimon Peres sealed the success of his official visit to Britain by convincing many of his hosts that it is up to Jordan rather than Israel to take the next important Middle East peace step.
After years of being cast as an intransigent obstacle to peace, Israel was convincingly portrayed by Peres as being genuinely anxious for an end to the conflict, ready to compromise on procedural matters, and sensitive to the needs of its Arab neighbors.
On the bilateral level, he secured Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s agreement to be the first British Premier to pay an official visit to Israel. Thatcher is also reported to have agreed to terminate the British government’s processing of Arab boycott documents, a long-standing bone of contention between London and Jerusalem.
Such achievements were all the more remarkable as the visit last week coincided with a major British government crisis, culminating on Friday in the resignation from the Cabinet of Leon Brittan, Secretary for Trade and Industry, with whom Peres had himself conferred.
OUTCOME OF PERES-MURPHY TALKS
At a packed press conference on Friday to mark the end of his official visit, Peres also shed light on the outcome of the parallel talks he had been holding here with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Richard Murphy, who has been mediating between Peres and Jordan’s King Hussein.
As a result of these talks, Peres said, King Hussein in the next few days would make a final approach to Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization over the terms and composition of the Arab delegation for a Middle East peace conference.
Peres saw little prospect that the PLO would agree to meet the requirements for its participation in international talks to be proposed by Hussein. But he got the message from his talks with Murphy that whatever the outcome of Hussein’s soundings with other Arabs, the door would be kept open for further discussions.
He also spoke of a common feeling that time was running out and that whatever should be done should be done in a very short time.
In a hint that the diplomatic action may return here or to the Mideast to continue his contacts. The problems on the road to negotiations with Jordan and a Palestinian delegation were the composition and procedure of an international conference. For the Soviet Union to participate, it would have to meet Israel’s requirement that it restore diplomatic relations with her. But there was no indication that this would happen.
PROCESSING ARAB BOYCOTT DOCUMENTS TO STOP
On bilateral matters, Peres said he had seen no sign of Britain relaxing her arms embargo on Israel. However, on the Arab boycott, it was reported here that Thatcher has agreed to stop the Foreign Office’s practice of authenticating lawyers’ signatures on documents certifying that goods sold to the Arabs do not originate in Israel.
Such a practice, regarded as discriminatory against a friendly country, has been strongly criticized by a House of Lords Committee, which recommended its discontinuation. But Arab trade circles have frequently warned that it would damage Britain’s business in the Middle East and so for the Foreign Office has taken such threats seriously. It now remains to be seen how quickly Thatcher’s reported promise will be implemented.
Besides his political talks, Peres had lunch with Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales, and met Jewish communal organization leaders and groups of academics. His only trip outside London was to All Souls College, Oxford, to dine with philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin.