Arens Concludes Washington Visit with Another Plea for U.S. Backing

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens ended his visit to Washington on Sunday the same way he began it last Thursday: by asserting that Israel’s peace initiative can only succeed if it has the whole-hearted support of the United States.

Speaking to the opening session of the 30th annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Arens said Israel met the commitment he made to the Bush administration two months ago that “Israel would launch a peace initiative.”

“The next move is up to Washington,” Arens said. “This initiative can succeed if it will have the wholehearted, unqualified support of the United States. We need that support. We believe we deserve it and are entitled to it.”

But the Bush administration appears to believe that the responsibility for moving the peace process forward lies with Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries.

“The emphasis right now should be on getting the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict to show flexibility and creativity in getting a dialogue started and setting the stage for peace negotiations,” State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.

“Both the United States and Israel are committed to doing what we can in this regard,” he said during a news briefing on Arens’ meeting Thursday afternoon with Secretary of State James Baker.

While in Washington, Arens also met with Vice President Dan Quayle, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Health and Human Services Secretary Jack Kemp.

CAN’T MISS OPPORTUNITY FOR PEACE’

Boucher said the secretary of state told Arens that the parties to the conflict “must bear the major responsibility to ensure movement forward in the process.

“We hope and expect that other parties will also explore the Israeli proposals seriously and constructively,” the spokesman said. “None of us can afford to miss a potential opportunity for peace.”

Boucher said the peace proposal adopted by the Israeli Cabinet last Sunday “had promising possibilities. It is a serious proposal.”

The proposal would have the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip elect representatives for negotiations with Israel for a five-year period of self-rule. Within three years of the establishment of autonomy, negotiations would be held on the final status of the territories.

Boucher said that while a “lot of work needs to be done on this proposal, it certainly is a good start and in the right direction. Elections can provide the opportunity to launch a political negotiating process.”

He noted that for the first time Palestinians will be involved “directly in every stage of the process. But elections cannot exist in a vacuum,” he said. “They must be part of a process that links transitional and final status” negotiations.

Departing the State Department Thursday, Arens told reporters he was not “pushed at all” by Baker on how the election would be held and who would be eligible to vote.

The Bush administration reportedly has been asking Israel whether Arabs in East Jerusalem would be allowed to vote and whether Israel would accept international supervision for elections.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has ruled out both proposals.

“I don’t think we can be sidetracked at this time by this or that detail,” Arens said.

“The main thrust of the peace initiative is clear,” Arens told some 1,200 delegates and 400 college students attending the AIPAC conference.

“Some of its details will be defined as we go along, but we should not get bogged down over these details now. That can only serve those who would like to derail the initiative.”

AID FOR REFUGEES PROPOSED

Arens stressed Sunday, as he has throughout his visit to Washington, that the Israeli peace initiative does not just propose elections, but includes three other proposals.

They are the reaffirmation by the United States, Israel and Egypt of the 1978 Camp David Accords, peace negotiations with other Arab countries and a multinational effort to solve the problems of Palestinians in refugee camps.

He called for U.S. participation in a summit with Israel and Egypt to reaffirm their commitments under the Camp David accords. He indicated last week that the summit should be held before the final plans for the elections are worked out.

Boucher would not comment on this proposal or another by Israel that the United States take the lead in a $2 billion program to aid Palestinians living in refugee camps. The proposal was contained in a letter Arens brought with him from Shamir to President Bush.

“The major obstacle to the peace initiative is the PLO,” Arens said. Sunday. He said the Palestine Liberation Organization seeks to frighten Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as Arab states, from negotiating with Israel.

“There is no other road to peace” than the Israeli proposal, Arens said. “International conferences and dialogues with terrorists are deadend streets and prescriptions for an escalation in frustration, animosity and violence.”

He urged the members of AIPAC to explain the Israeli initiative to American leaders and “mobilize support for it throughout America. You can help move it from an initiative to a real movement toward peace,” he said.

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