U.S. Dismayed by Arafat Statement Rejecting Baker Proposal for Talks

The Bush administration expressed regret Monday that the Palestine Liberation Organization has “flat out” rejected proposals by Secretary of State James Baker to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“If we are ever to get the process off the ground, Palestinians are going to have to find a way to respond positively,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said at her daily noon briefing.

She was reacting to the announcement earlier in the day that the PLO’s Central Council, which is meeting in Baghdad, was asked by PLO leader Yasir Arafat to reject the “five points” Baker proposed to Israel and Egypt to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian meeting in Cairo.

The State Department has emphasized that the Cairo meeting would be a way of hammering out the details of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s plan to hold elections on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But Tutwiler did not seem to feel that Shamir’s remarks Sunday in an interview with Ma’ariv were also a rejection of Baker’s proposals.

She quoted Shamir as saying: “Why go all the way to Cairo when both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, are here? After all, this would be a meeting to discuss only technical matters concerning the modalities of the election.

“Israel would send a delegation of officials knowledgeable on the subjects, rather than a delegation of politicians. This would be a preliminary stage only and it should not be portrayed as a major international effort,” she quoted the premier as saying.

NOT DISCUSSED WITH PLO IN TUNISIA

Tutwiler said Shamir’s remarks do not “rule out or rule in a different meeting, which we are still working on,” that would deal with “the overall framework” of peace talks.

Baker’s proposals were not discussed last Friday when Robert Pelletreau, the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, met informally with PLO officials, Tutwiler said. But she said Pelletreau “did get into the importance of getting a dialogue under way and what it would take to do so.”

Asked to explain why the United States did not raise the points directly with the PLO, Tutwiler said, “We are dealing with the foreign minister of Egypt.” She added, “The Egyptians are talking to the Palestinians.”

Tutwiler said the discussions with the PLO dealt with “what it would take to get to a dialogue now between Israelis and Palestinians.” Also discussed was “the importance of the PLO going along with such a dialogue and doing nothing to block it.”

A PLO statement issued in Baghdad on Tuesday said that any delegation representing the Palestinians “must be chosen and approved by the PLO.”

Israel’s Inner Cabinet on Oct. 6 deadlocked and thereby rejected a proposal by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he name the Palestinian delegation for talks in Cairo. The vote was split along party lines, with Labor backing the idea and Likud rejecting it.

Baker then proposed his five points, which include Egyptian-Israeli consultations on the makeup of the Palestinian delegation. Baker also suggested a meeting in Washington with the Egyptian and Israeli foreign minister if the two sides could work out the Cairo meeting.

ANOTHER MISSED OPPORTUNITY

The announcement in Baghdad rejecting the Baker proposals is the latest example of the PLO missing an opportunity to make peace, according to the co-authors of a new book on the PLO’s involvement in terrorism.

“This is another sign of the PLO being unable to translate momentary diplomatic gains into long-term political advantage,” said Joshua Sinai, a former Middle East analyst with the Library of Congress.

Sinai and Yonah Alexander spoke here Monday morning at a news conference announcing the publication of their book “Terrorism: the PLO Connection.”

The Palestinians have continuously missed opportunities going even further back than the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947, said Alexander, a research professor at George Washington University and director of the Institute for Studies in International Terrorism at the State University of New York.

If the PLO “had accepted the Camp David agreement in 1978, I believe that they would have had a state in 1984 or 1985,” Sinai said.

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