Bush Promises Rabin He’ll Seek Arab Backing for Peace Initiative

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended his three-day visit to Washington on Wednesday with a promise from President Bush to help win Palestinian support for Israel’s peace initiative.

“My impression is that the United States will like to assist Israel in finding a partner among the Palestinians in the territories to move ahead along the outline of the peace process,” Rabin said after a White House meeting with Bush.

But he would not reveal what the Bush administration would do to get Palestinians to support the Israeli proposal. It calls for the Palestinians to elect representatives to negotiate with Israel for self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli proposal received its highest endorsement yet from the administration in a statement read Wednesday by State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler.

“We are wholeheartedly supportive” of the election proposal, Tutwiler said. “We want to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians to move the peace process forward.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens called for full U.S. support of the Israeli initiative during his visit to Washington last week. But until Wednesday, the State Department stopped short of using the word “wholeheartedly” to characterize its support for the plan.

The meeting with Bush had not been scheduled when Rabin began his meetings with administration officials Monday. It appeared to have been arranged after Secretary of State James Baker made a hard-hitting speech Monday to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

BAKER SPEECH NOT DISCUSSED

Rabin said he did not discuss Baker’s remarks with the president. But he noted that he has been arguing for the last two days that Israelis, Americans and Arabs who want to move the peace process forward should not focus on the elements of a final settlement, since all sides are too deeply divided.

“If we can reach an agreement today on them, there would be no need to move gradually toward peace,” he said. But he noted “even the peace with Egypt was not achieved by one act.”

Rabin also refused to be drawn into criticism of Baker’s speech when he was asked about it earlier in the day, after addressing a luncheon sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I don’t believe that I have to refer to any specific statement, even if it is made by the secretary of state,” he said. “I prefer not to argue with anyone about issues that refer to the permanent solution.”

Rabin told the Washington Institute that Israel did not propose the elections as a way of postponing a final settlement.

“Israel doesn’t intend just to hold the first step and to wait,” Rabin said.

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