Israel, Firm on Palestinian Role, May Boycott Some of Regional Talks

Israel is now almost certain to boycott two of the five sets of multilateral talks on Middle East regional issues scheduled for later this month because of a fundamental disagreement with the United States over the issue of Palestinian participation.

The United States and Russia, co-sponsors of the multilateral talks, announced in January that they would support a non-indigenous Palestinian presence in the working groups on economic development, to be held May 11-13 in Brussels, and on refugees, slated for May 13-15 in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir gave no indication of any breakthrough in the dispute at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday. He denied reports that Israel had proposed as a compromise to accept diaspora Palestinians who were permanent residents of participating Arab countries and would attend the talks as members of those countries’ delegations.

The working groups were established at the opening of the multilateral phase of the peace talks in Moscow on Jan. 28-29. The Moscow conference was boycotted by the Palestinians because the sponsoring powers refused to seat a delegation that included Palestinians from outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In addition to the Brussels and Ottawa meetings, working groups are slated to discuss arms control May 11-13 in Washington; water resources May 12-14 in Vienna; and environmental issues during the week of May 18 in Tokyo.

Palestinians will be excluded from the arms control talks entirely and only those from the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be included in the talks on water resources and environmental issues.

LABOR ASSAILS LACK OF PROGRESS

Shamir said the issue of European participation had “not yet been finalized.”

That contradicted reports that Foreign Minister David Levy had worked out a satisfactory arrangement at his meeting last week with the foreign minister of Portugal, Joao de Deus Pinheiro, who currently chairs the European Community’s Council of Ministers.

Israel objects to European participation in the arms control colloquium, apparently for fear the Europeans would raise the question of Israel’s reputed arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the bilateral peace talks, which concluded their fifth round in Washington last week, have become an election issue in Israel.

Opposition Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin said it is “a joke” to pretend that any meaningful progress was made in the latest round.

But the Likud government’s line is that there has been more progress on matters of substance than meets the eye. The minister of religious affairs, Avner Shaki, echoed that position in remarks to reporters Sunday.

Shaki, a member of the National Religious Party, claimed that the talks have produced real progress. He gave as an example Syria’s professed readiness, for the first time, to study an official Israeli working paper.

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