Levy May Ask Baker for Assurances on Palestinian State, Talks with PLO

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy is reported to be considering whether to ask the United States for written assurances that it will not support the creation of a Palestinian state or require Israel to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Levy is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in Washington on Aug. 9 or 10, the State Department announced Friday in Washington.

In announcing the visit, department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Baker “wants to work with the new government of Israel to create a common and credible basis on which to move on the peace process.”

Levy is also looking to maximize the areas of agreement between Israel and the United States. He indicated as much in an Israel Television interview last week.

Political sources therefore speculated that Israel might soften its stance on Baker’s proposals for advancing the peace process if Levy could win written guarantees from the United States on creation of a Palestinian state and Israeli negotiations with the PLO.

Levy’s advisers maintain that such guarantees are consistent with what has been publicly stated U.S policy all along.

But it is not clear whether hard-line elements in the Likud coalition government would approve anything in the way of Israeli concessions to Baker’s proposals.

Israel has rejected Baker’s plan for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo, because Baker wants the Palestinian delegation to include residents of East Jerusalem and Palestinians deported from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Likud government maintains that including them would give legitimacy to the claims of Palestinians outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the PLO.

Baker initially responded with anger to the new government’s position, telling a congressional panel in June that it was up to Israeli to get the peace process moving and that it was ready, it should telephone the White House.

U.S. NOW TRYING TO WORK WITH ISRAEL

But now the Bush administration appears to be signaling that it feels it can work with the Likud-led government.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens, a former ambassador to Washington who has many friends in the administration, received a warm welcome to the U.S. capital Friday, when he met with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Arens is being looked on with favor in Washington because since becoming defense minister, he has sought to keep Israeli forces from engaging in conflicts with Palestinians in the territories, has released 400 Palestinian prisoners and has been meeting with local Palestinian leaders.

As for Levy, Jewish sources and others have been telling reporters and members of the administration that he is more of a pragmatist than a hard-liner. Levy reportedly was pleased by a letter from Baker in which he was called a problem-solver.

Levy’s meeting with Baker will be their first since the Likud foreign minister took office last month.

They had been tentatively scheduled to meet in Paris July 18 or 19. But Levy, who suffered a mild heart attack on June 14, was not permitted by his doctors to travel.

His first high-level diplomatic encounter will occur here Monday, when Levy receives a senior delegation of the European Community, headed by the current president of its Council of Ministers, Italian Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis.

They are making a one-day visit to Jerusalem. Israeli sources said the European diplomats have agreed to a request from Washington not to advance separate, alternative proposals for the peace process at this time, but rather to urge the parties to the Middle East conflict to cooperate with Baker’s plan.

Israeli sources say Baker is coordinating Middle East policy with the Italian foreign minister. After leaving Jerusalem, the E.C. delegation will go to Tunis for meetings with the PLO leadership.

(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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