Palestinians React Warily to Rabin Peace Initiative

Palestinian leaders are reacting warily to the push for peace coming from newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the rapprochement beginning to take shape between Washington and Jerusalem.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks, said Rabin’s inaugural address to the Knesset on Monday reflected “a change in tone, but no change in substance” from his predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir.

In his speech, Rabin placed peace at the top of his agenda and called on Palestinians to take Israeli offers of autonomy seriously. Ashrawi was unimpressed by Rabin’s willingness to “talk” to the Palestinians. “We need to see real change, no gestures,” she said in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Ashrawi also warned that if, in a gesture of good will toward the new Rabin government, the United States eases conditions for Israel to receive loan guarantees, her delegation will walk out of the talks.

The United States would no longer be “an impartial peace broker,” she said.

Ashrawi issued a similar warning should the Democratic Party win the White House in November. She called the Democratic Party “biased” regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and said that if the next administration adopted the party’s strong pro-Israel platform, that administration too would not be considered an honest broker in the peace process.

“We do not interfere in American internal politics and we only express an external view,” Ashrawi told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a telephone interview.

However, in the same breath she said that support for the loan guarantees amounted to an “illegal statement, because the settlements violate both American policy and international law.”

PLO SCHEDULES A MEETING

Ashrawi said she took into account the fact that the Democratic statements of support for Israel made before the presidential elections amounted to electioneering, but the very fact that they were made was an indication of a biased view in favor of Israel.

She welcomed the forthcoming visit of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, due here on Sunday, expressing confidence that the peace process would now move forward at a faster speed.

Meanwhile, Palestine Liberation Organization leaders called for a meeting next week in Tunis to work out a response to Rabin’s overtures.

At a news conference here on Tuesday, Faisal Husseini, head of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, said there was a clear difference between the Rabin and Shamir governments. Shamir, he said, was determined not to negotiate, whereas Rabin hopes to push the peace process forward through negotiations.

The Palestinian leaders refrained from reacting directly to Rabin’s call to put an end to violence in the territories, They challenged Israel to take the first confidence-building measures.

The intifada could change in form, they said, but its scope would depend largely on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, they said.

Husseini, who is not directly involved in the peace negotiations in part because he lives in Jerusalem, indirectly challenged the Likud’s policy of boycotting any negotiations with Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, by suggesting that Rabin contact him for a meeting “We are here,” he said, “not far.”

Husseini is also closely identified with PLO leader Yasir Arafat, who is barred from any part in the peace process. Husseini was therefore appointed head of the unofficial advisory council, which, in effect, guides the official Palestinian delegation. At the news conference Tuesday, the official head of the Palestinian delegation, Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi was even more dismissive of Rabin’s invitation to meet.

“As long as this invitation comes within the context of this speech, this is not really encouraging to accept the invitation,” he said, Abdel-Shafi stressed that the Palestinians rejected any distinction between “political” and “security” settlements and demanded a total freeze on all settlements in the territories.

Rabin has asserted repeatedly that he would safeguard settlements in the administered territories that he considered vital for security.

Dr. Riad Malki, identified with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that opposition to the peace talks by radical elements would continue, despite the change in the Israeli government.

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