JERUSALEM (May. 16)
Secretary of State James Baker left Israel on Thursday without accomplishing his peace mission but promising to try again.
“There is a chance to produce a process which can result in direct negotiations between Israel and Arab states, and between Israel and Palestinians,” Baker told a news conference at Ben-Gurion Airport before boarding a plane for Washington.
“There are, of course, remaining issues that have to be resolved, and there is additional work that has to be done,” he said.
The implication was that he would return to the region, though he made no such commitment.
Baker said he would report to President Bush on the results of what was his fourth try at shuttle diplomacy since mid-March.
He began shuttling between Israel and Arab capitals in the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, when Arab states that had collaborated with the United States in defeating Iraq seemed ready for the first time to negotiate directly with Israel.
Baker’s efforts to set up a peace conference under U.S.-Soviet auspices foundered over apparently irreconcilable differences between Syria and Israel on the nature and duration of the peace conference.
Syria insists on a active role for the United Nations, which Israel absolutely rejects. Israel says the conference must be a one-time ceremonial opener that would adjourn once direct talks began on the substantive issues.
Syria wants an ongoing conference, to which the parties could appeal in case of impasse.
Baker was unable to soften Syrian President Hafez Assad’s position in six hours of talks in Damascus last Sunday, nor did he make much progress with the Israelis in two days of meetings here.
But the United States and Israel were reported to have reached understandings on several points not necessarily acceptable to the Arab parties.
EAST JERUSALEM ISSUE AVOIDED
According to the report, they agreed that the peace conference, in whatever form, would not have arbitration powers or the authority to enforce solutions or veto results.
Baker remarked at his news conference that this understanding of the conference role is shared by all countries where it was discussed.
Israel and the United States also were said to share the view that a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating delegation is preferable to a separate Palestinian delegation.
The delicate issue of Palestinian representation from East Jerusalem, totally opposed by Israel, was avoided in Baker’s talks here.
According to the new U.S.-Israeli points of agreement, Palestinians attending the conference would be from “the territories,” which were not specified.
Baker spoke at his news conference of having a “better understanding” of the exact nature of the process.
He said he was not disappointed by his failure to get a peace conference started, because “for the first time ever, we have Arab governments expressing readiness to sit in direct discussions, face to face with Israel.”
He was referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, an organization of six major oil-producing states, which expressed a willingness to participate in a peace conference as an observer.
Israel dismissed the offer, claiming that every country technically at war with it must participate fully in peace talks.
Foreign Minister David Levy who saw Baker off at the airport, refused to comment on Israel’s position and put the onus on Syria.
“Let us not give Syria any pretext for impeding this process,” he said.
Baker is expected to send an emissary to find out if King Hussein of Jordan would be ready to join in a limited peace conference with Israel that would not include Syria. Jordan so far has refused to participate in talks without Syria.
Levy praised Baker for his efforts for the cause of peace. He admitted the talks here were held in an atmosphere that “was sometimes not all that good,” but he was pleased nevertheless with the progress made.