U.S. Hopes to Convene Direct Talks Despite Disagreement over Location

The United States is still aiming to convene direct talks between Israel and the various Arab parties by Sunday, even though they are at odds on where such negotiations should take place.

“I have seen no expressions of reluctance to go forward with bilateral negotiations,” Secretary of State James Baker said Wednesday, when questioned by reporters in Madrid about Syria’s perceived reservations about meeting face to face with Israel.

But he acknowledged that there are differences among the parties about where those talks should take place. Some of the Arab countries prefer to have the three sets of direct talks take place outside the Middle East, but Israel wants them to rotate between Jerusalem and Arab capitals.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who along with Jordan Foreign Minister Kamel Abu Jaber gave separate news conferences before Baker, said that the direct talks should take place in the region.

He observed that the initial talks preceding the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty took place in the region, as did the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Syrian disengagement talks after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. All were a success, he noeted.

According to the conference invitations issued by the United States and the Soviet Union, direct bilateral talks are to begin four days after the opening of the peace conference. Israel will be negotiating separately with Syria, Lebanon and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

Baker, who spoke several hours after the conclusion of the Wednesday’s opening session of the peace conference, said the gathering “put one old taboo to rest,” meaning that Israelis and Arabs were in the same room for peace talks.

“You crawl before you walk, and you walk before you run. I think today we all began to crawl,” Baker said.

“From this day forward, dialogue and negotiations, not violence and confrontation, should be the hallmark of the Middle East,” he said.

“The true intentions of each of the parties will come when they sit down face to face across the table in bilateral contexts, and perhaps even in a multilateral context, to address some of the regional issues that affect the region.”

The secretary of state reiterated that the United States does not intend “to take a position on borders. It is, we think, up to the participants themselves to negotiate this.

“At the same time,” he added, “I think it is a fact of life that Israel’s willingness to compromise on territory will be affected by Arab willingness to address Israel’s legitimate security needs and to enter into a real peace with all that that entails.”

‘SEVEN FRESH ORPHANS’ IN ISRAEL

Netanyahu and Abu Jaber each tried to portray their countries’ plight for the past 43 years as the most difficult one.

The Israeli, referring to his country’s geographic problem in defending itself, said that when he was in better physical shape, he ran from the Mediterranean Sea to Israel’s eastern border in less than an hour.

He also said there were “seven fresh orphans in Israel” because of recent terrorism.

The Jordanian, calling the Madrid talks “a new phase” in the region’s history, said he wants to be able to tell his grandchild that “I put my heart in my hand to make peace.”

Netanyahu argued that Israel, by withdrawing from the Sinai a decade ago in return for peace with Egypt, should not now-automatically have to return the other territories captured in 1967.

“If Israel has already given a full 91 percent of the territories, that compromise does not mean that Israel is asked to give 100 percent, and the other side is asked to give zero,” he argued.

Abu Jaber, when questioned about any Jordanian willingness to concede some of the territories to Israel, did not rule out the possibility, although he talked of having East Jerusalem restored to Arab control.

When pressed on his view toward shaking the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Abu Jaber said he would do so “when we reach a settlement, when our rights are recognized, when the Palestinian people are recognized and their self-determination, when Arab Jerusalem is returned to Arab sovereignty.”

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