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Arens Says Peace Process Alive and No One’s Losing Patience

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Israel’s peace initiative is not dead yet, according to Foreign Minister Moshe Arens.

But instead of negotiating with the Palestinians, the dialogue for the moment is with Washington, and there is every chance that agreement will be reached over how to proceed, he said.

Interviewed Thursday on army radio, the foreign minister dismissed reports from Israeli correspondents in Washington that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker is “growing impatient” with the positions taken by himself and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Arens said that based on his acquaintance with Baker, he is convinced the secretary does not lose patience easily.

“We, for our part, will not lose patience because we are negotiating over our vital interests,” the foreign minister said.

Likud hard-liners, backed by an extreme right-wing constituency, are demanding that the entire initiative be abandoned.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party, Likud’s coalition partner, says it will not rock the boat while Shamir and Arens try to resolve their differences with Washington.

However, if that fails, Labor says it is ready to bring down the government.

The present situation began to develop last month, when President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt offered a 10-point plan which he insisted was no more than a fleshing out of Shamir’s proposals for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shamir unveiled those plans in April.

Mubarak invited Israelis and Palestinians to start negotiations in Cairo for the elections, but Israel balked at proposed members of the Palestinian delegation on grounds they were controlled by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Labor, for its part, was willing to accept Mubarak’s points as the Palestinians’ opening bargaining position, and was not upset over the composition of the Palestinian negotiating team.

At Labor’s request, the 12-member Inner Cabinet, the government’s top policy-making body, voted on the issue on Oct.6.

The result was a 6-6 split along party lines. By law, a tie is a negative vote.

Arens said the two outstanding issues in the ongoing Jerusalem-Washington exchange are the composition of the Palestinian delegation and the agenda of the proposed dialogue.

Shamir reiterated categorically Wednesday that he would reject any effort to introduce even an indirect role for the PLO in the peace process.

“If the PLO are in, Israel is out,” he declared.

Shamir and Arens reportedly are seeking to strike from the new American proposals any reference to separate American-Egyptian consultations on the proposed Palestinian delegation.

The Israelis fear that would imply a PLO role behind the scenes in selecting and approving delegates.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who has been the key figure on the Labor side promoting a dialogue, said Wednesday that neither he nor Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, are being kept privy to details of Jerusalem’s exchanges with Washington.

“But that’s OK with me — if Arens and Baker reach an agreement, I’ll buy it,” Rabin said.

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