PARIS (Jun. 13)
Israel will not agree to remove security forces from the territories during the proposed Palestinian elections there. But where troops will be stationed is a matter “open to negotiations,” Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said here Tuesday.
Rabin, in Paris on an official visit and to attend the air show at Le Bourget, spoke to a group of French intellectuals about Israel’s peace plan which, among other things, calls for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“I don’t want to go into any details before we have a positive reply from our future negotiating partners,” the defense minister said.
So far, none of those prospective interlocutors has stepped forward.
Rabin maintained that the Palestinians now have an option. “They must choose between negotiations and violence. It is up to them to make the decision,” he said.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has informed the United States that it would consider the election option only if guaranteed that Israeli military forces will be withdrawn from the territories beforehand.
Israeli leaders have ruled out such an evacuation. But Rabin’s stated willingness to discuss where troops would be deployed indicates that the Israeli position on this point may be more flexble than previously believed.
Rabin said that Israel has two parallel tasks in the administered territories: to maintain order and to prepare for the negotiating process.
He spoke at a breakfast meeting with a group of about 20 intellectuals, including Marie-Clair Mendes-France, widow of the late French-Jewish prime minister, Pierre Mendes-France.
Mendes-France has been sympathetic to both Israel and the Palestinian cause. She met with PLO leader Yasir Arafat last Friday in Tunis.
Rabin praised U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s May 22 speech on the Middle East, though it angered many Israelis.
“The only misgivings I have deal with the fact that he talked about the final outcome of the negotiating process by calling on us to give up the vision of a Greater Israel.
“The final outcome should be left open,” Rabin said.
Rabin met Monday with Premier Michel Rocard and with the French defense minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, on Tuesday. He was due to return to Israel Wednesday morning.