Israelis Missing from Peace Talks, but Say They Will Show Up Monday

The Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians and Palestinians all showed up at the State Department on Wednesday, but as expected, Israeli negotiators stayed away from the scheduled second round of bilateral talks.

Israel tried to put the best face on the situation by announcing that its three negotiating teams would arrive here by Monday and would agree to take part in talks “on the same day, but not the same time.”

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s spokesman, Ehud Gol, emphasized that this was a concession, since Israel had initially opposed holding the talks in Washington and had wanted the three separate sets of negotiations held consecutively, rather than simultaneously.

Israel has wanted to maintain the appearance that the talks are bilateral, rather than part of a single international peace conference.

It remained unclear, however, whether the talks would convene on schedule Monday.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the 14 member Palestinian delegation, and Abdul Salaam Majali, head of the Jordanian delegation, indicated they might not appear on Monday because it is the fourth anniversary of the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But that is a “good reason to start talks,” Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval said, since the intifada demonstrated the “futility of violence.”

Shoval spoke at a news conference Wednesday morning, along with Benjamin Netanyahu, a deputy minister in Shamir’s office, who was sent to Washington to counter Arab propaganda over Israel’s refusal to show up on time at the talks.

They emphasized that although Israel had received negative publicity for failing to show up at Wednesday’s talks, the move was necessary to show the Arabs that they must deal with Israel directly, rather than count on Washington to pressure the Jewish state to meet their demands.

“We are not going to get far if the Arabs simply believe they can sit back and have the United States deliver Israel,” said Netanyahu “That is not going to work.”

ARABS HAVEN’T ‘PICKED UP THE PHONE’

Shoval said State Department officials have promised that the United States will no longer act as a “mailman” for the negotiating parties.

But at the State Department, spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler repeated Wednesday that the United States set Dec. 4 for the resumption of the bilateral talks only when Israel and the Arabs could not themselves agree on a date.

Netanyahu and Shoval said that Israeli officials have constantly tried to telephone the Arabs to discuss the time and procedures for direct negotiations, but “they have not picked up the phone.”

If the Arabs are “ready to move away from the cameras and the futile point-scoring, they know how to reach us,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s desire to have the negotiations take place in the Middle East. He explained that the negotiators must keep in constant contact with their governments, which is more difficult “half way around the world.”

He recalled that the Camp David accords were hammered out by Israeli and Egyptian negotiators in the Middle East, and only after they were near agreement were the final talks held in Washington.

“We can pick up the thread of peace in Washington, but we have to weave it gradually in the Middle East,” he said.

PROGRESS WITH SYRIANS IN DOUBT

Dealing briefly with substantive issues, Netanyahu said that in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel wants to achieve “maximum security” coupled with “minimum intervention in the daily lives of the Arabs.”

He appeared less hopeful on negotiations with Syria, since he said the Syrians are only offering an end to belligerency, not peace.

A leader of the Labor Party opposition, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, seemed to agree in this assessment. He told a news conference, convened here Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League, that there is a chance to achieve agreement with the Palestinians, because they will be discussing an interim self-rule arrangement, not the final solution for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians in the territories are for the first time taking responsibility for their own future without relying on the Arab countries or the Palestine Liberation Organization outside the territories, Rabin said.

He expressed hope that any failure to move ahead in negotiations with Syria would not prevent progress in the talks with the Palestinians. He suggested that Jordan would agree to any decision taken by the Palestinians.

But Rabin was less optimistic about the talks on Middle East regional issues, scheduled to be held in Moscow on Jan 28-29. He doubted any agreements reached would be implemented unless the peace settlements had been achieved first.

Rabin, who was in the United States on private business, refused to comment on the flap over the resumption of the bilateral talks, especially since he said it will be an issue that is “forgotten a month from now.”

(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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