U.S. Agrees Details of Elections Can Wait Until Arabs Back Plan

The Bush administration appeared Thursday to support Israel’s position that details of the proposed elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be discussed only after Palestinian participation is assured.

The “details can be worked out once Palestinians and Israelis engage in the process,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said at her daily news briefing.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin repeatedly asserted during his visit to Washington that decisions on such questions as who is eligible to vote should not be made until Israel has a Palestinian partner for its peace initiative.

And both Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arenas, who visited Washington last week, urged the Bush administration to give full backing to the Israeli peace plan, so it would have a better chance of winning international support.

Tutwiler said Wednesday that the United States “wholeheartedly” supports Israel’s proposals for the Palestinian elections in the territories, which would lead to negotiations for Palestinian self-rule.

Both this and the statement on working out the details of the elections later appeared to be concessions to Israel, in the wake of a hard-hitting speech Secretary of State James Baker made Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

But Tutwitler also made a point Thursday of repeating a portion of that speech relating to the U.S. position on the proposed Palestinian elections.

“The U.S. believes elections should be free and fair, and they should be free of interference from any quarter,” she said. “In addition to open access to media and outside observers, the integrity of the electoral process can be affirmed.”

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