JERUSALEM (Jun. 28)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told President Bush on Thursday that Israel is determined to continue with the peace process.
But in his lengthy letter delivered to the White House, Shamir reiterated Israel’s rejection of the formula proposed by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker for an Israeli-Palestinian peace dialogue.
The letter was Shamir’s response to a private communication he received from Bush two weeks ago asking how the new Israeli government thought the peace process should proceed.
It was phrased in friendly terms, Israeli officials said, and expressed appreciation for American contributions to Middle East peace efforts.
But it gave no ground on the key Baker proposals and disputed the longstanding American view that Jewish settlements in the administered territories are “an obstacle to peace.”
Another Israeli position expressed in the letter was that the crux of the Middle East conflict is not the Palestinian issue, but the “refusal of the Arab states to put an end to the state of belligerency with Israel.”
In Washington, Secretary of State James Baker said the letter from Shamir is “very long and detailed” and “requires careful study and careful consideration.”
But he would not confirm reports from Jerusalem that Shamir had rejected his proposals on the makeup of the Palestinian delegation.
“If the letter was absolutely definitive, we wouldn’t need to study it,” Baker said during a White House briefing on the upcoming NATO meeting in London and the economic summit in Houston.
COVERS BROAD SPECTRUM
“It covers quite a broad spectrum of questions and issues,” he added.
But Baker indicated that he was sticking to his proposals to allow Palestinians who had been deported or are residents of East Jerusalem to be in the Palestinian delegation.
Baker would not say whether the letter left him optimistic about chances for moving ahead in the peace process.
“It is not a simple issue, black and white,” he said. He said there are elements of the letter that are “on both sides of that equation.”
Bush administration policy has stressed the primacy of resolving Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians.
While that is an element of the peace initiative launched by Shamir in May 1989, the prime minister’s letter to Bush pointed out that another element, ending the state of war between Israel and its neighbors, has been largely ignored.
According to Shamir, most efforts now should be directed toward achieving peace with the Arab states.
He nevertheless expressed readiness to cooperate with Baker “to advance the dialogue with a Palestinian delegation.”
But Shamir remained adamantly opposed to the compromise advanced by Baker to persuade the Palestinians to agree to a dialogue.
“As you know, Mr. President, we are opposed to the participation of deportees in the Palestinian delegation and also the participation of the East Jerusalem Arabs,” Shamir’s letter said.
Baker proposed that a Palestinian deported from the territories by Israel be admitted to the dialogue as well as a Palestinian who, while a resident of the West Bank, also has an address in East Jerusalem.
Shamir’s government contends that would be tantamount to allowing the Palestine Liberation Organization to choose the Palestinian delegation.
Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Moshe Arad, was expected to arrive here late Thursday with a verbal message from Baker for Shamir and Foreign Minister David Levy. Its gist was said to be that the United States still expects a positive Israeli response to his plan.
Arad, who conferred with Baker on Wednesday night, was reportedly told that in the absence of a positive response from Israel, the United States would consider “alternatives,” meaning an international peace conference, which Israel strongly opposes as the means to settle the Middle East conflict.
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)