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Baker Sees Mideast Negotiators but Agrees Not to Intervene Now

Israeli negotiators are winding down the current round of bilateral talks here satisfied that the United States will not intervene in the negotiations.

Zalman Shoval, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said Secretary of State James Baker gave this assurance to the Israeli delegation during a 30-minute meeting Wednesday.

Baker also met Wednesday with the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and separately Tuesday night with the Lebanese and Syrian delegations.

Richard Boucher, the State Department deputy spokesman, said that while Baker did not make any U.S. proposals to move the talks along, he repeated the U.S. desire for the negotiations to move from procedure into substantive issues.

U.S. officials said the meetings were called merely to give the secretary an update on the talks, not to involve him personally in the negotiations. The Arab negotiators, particularly the Palestinians, have urged Baker to intervene to break the deadlock, something the Israelis adamantly oppose.

Shoval, who is also a member of the Israeli team negotiating with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, said Baker also agreed there should be no preconditions for the talks, including a freeze on the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, threatened Tuesday night that the Palestinians would not talk about Palestinian self-rule unless Israel agreed to freeze the building of settlements in the disputed territories.

ISRAELIS DELAY DEPARTURE

Shoval said discussions on settlements is for the next phase of negotiations, which will take place three years after a self-rule arrangement for the Palestinians is in place.

He repeated Israel’s position that no matter what happens to the land, Israel could never accept a prohibition on Jews living anywhere in the territories.

Despite their threat, the Palestinians me again with Israel late Wednesday. Israel postponed its scheduled departure Wednesday until noon Thursday for another meeting with the Jordanian and Palestinians.

Shoval indicated that the discussion would cover the venue of the next round of talks. The Arabs are insisting that the talks continue in Washington, but Israel wants the negotiations to take place in the countries involved or, if that unacceptable, somewhere in the Middle East.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, head of the Israeli delegation for talks with the Syrians, said Baker supported Israel’s idea of offering a list of possible sites.

But if there is no agreement on venue Baker said “there will be no alternative but for the United States to step in and see if they can mediate and reach some sort of compromise proposal,” Ben-Aharon reported.

This is what the United States did after the Madrid peace conference, when it proposed the Washington site, much to Israel’s dismay.

Shoval also said that if the Palestinians want to continue negotiations, they should end terrorism. He said that while the Palestinian negotiators may not be responsible for the latest violence in the West Bank, they should be able to control their people.

“The Palestinians will have to decide once and for all” whether “they come here as angels of peace or angels of death,” he said.

PALESTINIAN AUTONOMY PLAN

Meanwhile, Shoval said that Palestinians have presented a written proposal for autonomy in the territories and that Israel has proposed agenda items for discussion of the issue.

According to The Washington Post, the two-page Palestinian proposal calls for the election of an interim Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the territories’ final status is determined.

The plan proposes an assembly of 180 representatives, to be elected in an internationally supervised referendum, and the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the territories.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have indicated they may not accept an invitation to attend the upcoming international conference on Middle East regional issues unless their delegation is considered separate from Jordan’s.

Invitations to the conference, set to open Jan. 28 in Moscow, were issued to the various parties by the United States and Russia this week.

Boucher said Wednesday that the Palestinians were invited to the conference on the same basis as they were to the bilateral talks, which means as part of a joint delegation with Jordan.

In other developments, the Israeli negotiators reported constructive meetings Wednesday with Jordan and Lebanon.

But Ben-Aharon complained that the Syrians continue to insist that Israel agree to leave the Golan Heights before any discussions of peace.

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