JERUSALEM (Oct. 15)
The heat is on the Palestinians to form a negotiating team with Jordan that Israel would find acceptable for peace talks.
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker is reported to have given the Palestinians until Wednesday to make a final commitment to attend the proposed Middle East peace conference. Otherwise it could begin without them or not take place at all.
Baker gave that ultimatum Tuesday before leaving the Jordanian capital of Amman for talks in Damascus.
He was due in Jerusalem on Wednesday, when he hopes to be able to tell the Israelis that the Palestinians have selected a delegation acceptable to them.
That means, first and foremost, one not visibly associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Palestinians have been engaged this week in intensive consultations in Amman. Participating are representatives from the administered territories, East Jerusalem and a PLO team sent from Tunis.
While the outcome is not yet known, the PLO reportedly has acquiesced to a behind-the-scenes role in the talks. Its executive committee was expected to adopt a formal resolution on the issue Wednesday.
Baker expects to get his answers from activists Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi in Jerusalem. They are leaders of a small group of Palestinians with whom Baker has conferred on each of his seven previous visits to Jerusalem this year.
On Tuesday morning, they crossed the Allenby Bridge into Jordan, with the full coopera- tion of the Israeli authorities, to participate in the Palestinian caucus in Amman.
But they were reported to have said Tuesday that the conference terms set by the United States still are not acceptable to the Palestinians.
OBSTACLES FROM THE SYRIANS
Baker spent Tuesday in Damascus trying to convince Syrian President Hafez Assad not to jeopardize the conference by making last-minute demands.
Syria, which is supposed to have agreed to attend the conference, is said to have told Baker that it will not make a final commitment before consulting with the PLO.
There were reports last week that even if Syria attended the opening session of the peace conference, it would walk out unless Israel committed itself in advance to give up territory.
Syria tried to pressure Egypt this week to insist that the conference be based on “land for peace.”
Cairo has so far declined, because it might put the conference in jeopardy.
The Syrians also are said to have served notice that they will not attend the regional phase of the conference, at which the participants would discuss common problems such as water resources.
Should the Syrians refuse to participate, Israel may well decline to attend the conference.