U.S. and Israel Strive to Ease Strains over Temple Mount Riots

Israel and the United States appear to be trying to ease the severe strains that have developed between them over the Temple Mount shooting, though the atmosphere remains chilly.

In Washington, Secretary of State James Baker on Wednesday reaffirmed the U.S commitment to a “unified Jerusalem.” He seemed to be saying: “Let’s find a way off the limb we have both climbed onto in spite of ourselves.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has written to President Bush proposing to “turn a new leaf” and advance together. He reiterated Israel’s support for U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.

The content of Bush’s reply is expected to have a strong effect on Israel’s next moves.

For the time being, however, there is no sign that the Shamir government will reverse its decision not to cooperate with the special three-member team U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar has been mandated to send here to investigate the Oct. 8 slaying of 21 rioting Arabs by Israeli police on the Temple Mount.

Much will depend on the outcome of Israel’s own investigation. The special inquiry commission set up by the government is expected to have its report ready by the end of next week.

If it finds that the security forces used excessive force and some heads roll as a result, the Israeli position may be squared with the U.S.-backed Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for using excessive force.

On the other hand, a report interpreted as a “whitewash” of the Israeli police is likely to escalate tension between the two countries.

TEDDY KOLLEK CLARIFIES STAND

Baker made his remarks about Jerusalem’s status during hearings on the Persian Gulf crisis held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) said he was concerned the U.N. resolution implies Jerusalem is occupied territory. He said he could conceive of many scenarios for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, but none “where Israel gives up Jerusalem.”

Baker said the U.S. position has always been that “Jerusalem should remain united,” but its final status should be determined in negotiations.

Simon welcomed a reported statement by Jerusalem’s mayor, Teddy Kollek, that he would cooperate with the U.N. fact-finding team.

But Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) objected strongly to the U.N. mission. He justified Israel’s opposition, saying the United States would have reacted the same way had the world body decided to probe the 1965 riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, in which 35 people died.

In Jerusalem, Kollek held a news conference to clarify his position on the U.N. delegation. He said he thought the delegation should be allowed to come here, but he did not personally invite it.

“I think we should see anybody who wants to come here, and talk to everybody, otherwise we show weakness, not confidence,” the 76-year-old mayor said.

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

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