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Israel Agrees to Receive U.N. Envoy in Move to End Dispute with Washington

In a step to appease both the United Nations and the Bush administration, the Israeli government has announced its willingness to allow a single U.N. envoy to visit Israel for general discussions on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

But it is not clear whether the United Nations will agree to the idea, which Israel is proposing as an alternative to the U.N. mission that was to investigate the Oct. 8 riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who is in Tokyo until Thursday for the coronation of Japanese Emperor Akihito, met Monday with Israeli President Chaim Herzog. U.N. officials said he was considering the proposal.

One obstacle may be the conditions Israel has placed on the envoy’s visit. The Foreign Ministry is insisting there be no discussion of the Temple Mount incident nor of proposed steps to “protect” Palestinians living in the administered territories.

A U.N. spokeswoman in New York refused to comment about the specific conditions, but said, “As we have said before, we do not accept conditions.”

Israeli officials said they are now prepared to receive U.N. envoy Jean-Claude Aimee, who visited Israel in June after seven Palestinian laborers were shot to death by an Israeli Jew near the town of Rishon le-Zion.

Aimee’s visit would then be seen as a continuation of his earlier trip, rather than a direct response to U.N. Security Council calls for an investigative mission.

NO GUARANTEE OF U.S. VETO

Israeli officials hope their decision will successfully end discussion of Israel in the Security Council, which has so far issued two resolutions sharply critical of Israeli actions during the Temple Mount riots, in which police fatally shot at least 17 Arabs.

Both resolutions demanded Israel cooperate with a U.N. fact-finding mission. But Israel refused, contending that doing so would compromise its claim to sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

Now the Security Council is considering stronger action. A resolution under discussion would convene the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which protects the rights of civilians in areas under military occupation.

The purpose of such a meeting would be to discuss measures to protect Palestinians, including the dispatch of U.N. observers to the administered territories.

While the United States is believed to oppose such a resolution, Israeli officials have not succeeded in persuading Washington to guarantee a U.S. veto.

President Bush would not give that commitment to a delegation of five American Jewish leaders he met with at the White House last Thursday.

According to reports in the Israeli press, confirmed with Jewish leaders in New York, the president said he could not understand why Israel would not accept a U.N. fact-finding mission. He told the Jewish leaders that Israel should find a way of cooperating with the United Nations, to get the issue off the U.N. agenda.

URGENCY CONVEYED BY JEWISH LEADERS

The American Jewish leaders then reportedly conveyed to Israel that the dispute needed to be resolved promptly to prevent a further deterioration in U.S.-Israeli relations. They said Washington was anxious to refocus U.N. and world attention on the crisis in the Persian Gulf, which has grown markedly more tense in the past two weeks.

Officials in Jerusalem were getting the same message from Zalman Shoval, the new Israeli ambassador in Washington.

Foreign Minister David levy told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Israel had decided to accept a U.N. envoy after 10 days of behind-the-scenes discussions with U.S. officials.

According to the plan, the secretary-general would depict the mission as an interim stage toward the implementation of the two Security Council resolutions adopted last month. But it would be understood that the issue would be dropped after Aimee’s trip, and U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the Security Council would be restored.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Aliza Marcus at the United Nations.)

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