Official Denies He Told U.S. Israel Would Reject Baker Plan

Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein on Sunday denied Israeli news reports that he told the Bush administration last week that Israel’s new government would reject Secretary of State James Baker’s proposal for talks on the Middle East peace process.

The reports said Rubinstein told Washington that Israel would reject a proposed dialogue with the Palestinians on the basis of Baker’s proposals.

Speaking to the news media after the new Cabinet’s first formal session, Rubinstein said his talks with State Department officials in Washington had been “of a general nature on how to advance the peace process.”

He said he had not gone into specifics because he had left Jerusalem just after the new government was formed June 11, and it obviously had not yet had time to address itself in detail to policy questions.

But Ronni Milo, the new minister of police, who is close to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, was quoted last week as saying that the “Baker question” is “no longer relevant.”

Milo said the new government is bound by the 1978 Camp David accords and by the peace proposal put forward by the previous national unity government in May 1989.

His assertion was seconded Sunday by the new health minister, Ehud Olmert of Likud. He and other officials said the new government would oppose the inclusion of Arabs from East Jerusalem and deportees from the territories in any negotiations, the stumbling block that derailed Baker’s proposed talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Baker himself referred to Milo’s message last Wednesday, when he told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States was tiring of what it deemed obstructions run by all parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

‘NO NEW IDEAS’ FOR PEACE

Israeli officials were clearly nettled by Baker’s now-famous recitation of the White House phone number coupled with an invitation for Israel to call when it is “serious about peace.”

But the lead story Sunday in the venerated Israeli daily Ha’aretz, said that “Baker learned from Rubinstein’s discussions with his aides that the new Israeli government has no new ideas for advancing the peace process.”

Shamir told the Cabinet on Sunday that he would not brook public declarations against the government from any minister. He cautioned too, that they would have to be stingy in foreign travels, given the precarious condition of the coalition in the Knesset.

The Cabinet set up several committees, among them a defense committee in which each of the small parties has one representative alongside a senior Likud minister, an Inner Cabinet on aliyah, chaired by Housing Minister Ariel Sharon; and a new legislation and law enforcement committee, whose creation seems to signal the new government’s determination to stress law and order as a top priority.

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