As U.S. Waits for Egyptian Answer, PLO Said to Be Seeking Assurances

A high-level State Department official expressed hope Wednesday that Egypt would soon respond to the five-point U.S. proposal for launching a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Egypt has been conferring on the plan with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and a formal response, “we hope, will be forthcoming in the near future,” John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.

PLO officials “have asked questions and they have made some observations,” but “have not given us an official position” on the five points, he said.

Asked what was holding up the PLO response, Kelly said, “I assume it’s a matter of internal deliberation.”

Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), the subcommittee chairman, said news reports indicate the PLO is seeking a number of assurances from the United States, including superpower sponsorship of the proposed Israeli-Palestinian talks and permission to broaden the agenda of those discussions.

Israel has insisted that the dialogue be limited to discussing how to implement Israel’s plan for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The PLO is also said to be seeking assurances that the Palestinian delegation will include representatives from East Jerusalem and at least two Palestinians from outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PLO also wants a role in composing the delegation, Hamilton reported.

Israel, in its own request for U.S. assurances, has asked that the PLO not play any role in the selection of the delegation. And Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud bloc is adamantly opposed to including representatives from outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Kelly could not confirm any of the assurances the PLO is seeking, but said the differing Israel and PLO positions on the composition of the Palestinian delegation “will be a point of substantive concern indeed.”

‘HEALTHY CHANGE’ IN THE PLO

The assistant secretary also defended the 11-month-old U.S. dialogue in Tunisia with the PLO. “We see the prominent figures in the PLO arguing about approaches to the peace process,” including possibility of a dialogue with Israel, said Kelly. “We think that is a healthy change.”

“A few years back, they were differing along with quarreling as to how to deal blows to Israel,” he added.

The PLO Central Committee, meeting in Baghdad in October, issued a statement that “had some flaws in it certainly, but which also included a recognition of the viability of dialogue with the Israelis,” said Kelly.

“So we see some small signs of alterations in their approach, which we think is constructive.”

Hamilton criticized the State Department for not obtaining definitive responses from the PLO. He asked at one point, “Why don’t we just forget the official dialogue and communicate through the press?”

Hamilton said congressional concerns about talking to the PLO “are only going to increase, unless we see some accuracy or content to that dialogue.”

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