WASHINGTON (Dec. 2)
Despite a dispute with the State Department over visas, the Palestinians are sending a negotiating delegation to Washington for the second round of bilateral peace talks, which the United States has scheduled for Wednesday.
Israel is sticking with its decision not to participate in the talks until next Monday. But in a gesture of good will, its three negotiating delegations will begin arriving here Thursday.
Nevertheless, Israel is likely to suffer a “black eye” in world public opinion, if it becomes the only invited Middle East party not to show up on Wednesday. In addition to the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have all indicated they will be here on schedule.
To minimize the negative public relations fallout, Israel is sending Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington to mount a media blitz. Netanyahu, who recently left the Foreign Ministry to become a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, is frequently called to represent the Israeli government’s point of view on American television news broadcasts.
An Israeli official here said that Netanyahu will not be taking part in the bilateral talks but will be on hand to conduct interviews with the news media.
The official explained that one of Netanyahu’s duties is to back up Israel’s positions in the peace process with “hasbara,” a Hebrew word that translates roughly as public relations.
“Since he’s so good in that, there’s no reason why he won’t be here when we are about to start the bilateral talks,” the official said.
It is unclear whether Netanyahu will join Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval in what has lately become a regular part of his daily schedule — meeting at the State Department with Dennis Ross, director of the policy planning staff and a close adviser to Secretary of State James Baker.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Monday that Netanyahu is coming here independent of the peace talks.
‘OPEN AND READY FOR BUSINESS’
Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans, said Netanyahu would “try to prevent the Arab side from exploiting the empty chairs to their advantage.”
Jahshan also said that the Palestinian delegates might take advantage of the opportunity of being in Washington to meet with leaders of major American Jewish organizations.
Meanwhile, the Israeli delegations will begin arriving here Thursday, when Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubenstein, who is leading the talks with the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, is expected to show up.
He will be followed Friday by Uri Lubrani, who is heading the talks with Lebanon and is also Israel’s top negotiator on the hostage crisis.
Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, who is heading the team that will negotiate with Syria, is due to arrive Sunday.
Whether the Arab delegations will remain in Washington until next week remains to be seen.
The State Department is playing down the delay in the arrival of the Israeli delegation, pointing instead to Israel’s acceptance of Washington as the venue for the talks, a site it originally opposed.
But spokeswoman Tutwiler reiterated Monday that the United States is sticking to the scheduled Wednesday resumption of the bilateral talks, which began in Madrid last month.
“We’ll be open and ready for business,” she said, explaining that it would have been wrong for the United States to change the date after other delegations had accepted the U.S. invitation.
PLO MEMBERS TUREND DOWN
There was some uncertainty Monday whether the Palestinians would come as planned, when the State Department refused to issue visas to all 11 members of the “advisory committee” that accompanied the delegation to Madrid.
When the Palestinians sent in a request en bloc for all 11 members, the State Department replied that such applications had to be submitted individually.
When the Palestinians did so, the United States “said no to some names” on the list, said Tutwiler.
Sources said among those turned down were Mahmoud Darwish, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, and Nabil Shaath, an adviser to the PLO’s foreign affairs committee.
Tutwiler refused to divulge the names of those who had been rejected, citing their right to privacy. But she confirmed that visas would not be issued to members of the PLO, in compliance with U.S. law.
Nevertheless, a visa reportedly has been granted to journalist Akram Haniya, a member of the revolution council of the PLO’s largest branch, Al Fatah.
When asked why the State Department would issue a visa to a member of A1 Fatah, an Israeli source speculated that the administration may be distinguishing between officials of the PLO command in Tunis and members of its constituent groups.
Jahshan of the Arab American group said visas had also been issued to Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi and another members of the advisory committee: Taysir Aiuri, a former physics professor at Bir Zeit University and member of the Israeli Communist Party.
A well-placed State Department official would neither confirm nor deny that Haniya and Aiuri had been issued visas.