JERUSALEM (Feb. 1)
In a move expected to take the wind out of mounting international pressure, Israel has partially reversed its deportation of 415 Palestinian activists from the administered territories.
Under a compromise deal worked out in consultation with the United States, Israel will accept back 100 of the Moslem fundamentalists it expelled to Lebanon in December and shorten to a maximum of one year the others’ terms of exile.
In exchange for the concessions, Israel has apparently received a promise that Washington will block any attempt by the U.N. Security Council to impose threatened sanctions on the Jewish state.
Rabin, announcing the move in a late-night news conference Monday, described the compromise as a “package deal” under which the United States pledged “to prevent resolutions in international frameworks which would have practical significance against Israel.”
Just a few hours after the Israeli Cabinet voted unanimously to approve the move, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher told reporters at the United Nations in New York: “President Clinton and I are pleased to announce that based on intensive consultations with the Israelis, there has been a breakthrough.”
Christopher went on to explain that the United States believes the Israeli decision is consistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 799, which demanded that Israel accept back the Moslem fundamentalists it expelled Dec. 17.
“As a consequence, we believe further action by the Security Council is unnecessary and could even undercut the process under way,” he said.
The secretary of state, during a visit to the United Nations on Monday, had discussed the deportation issue at a working lunch with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
CLINTON ADMINISTRATION PRAISED
Asked whether the U.S. would resort to using its Security Council veto to block sanctions against Israel if necessary, Christopher said, “That’s a hypothetical question, and I don’t think I have to get into it today.”
According to other elements of the compromise reached by Israel and the United States, the remaining 300 deportees who are not accepted back by Israel will be dispersed among other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The deportees are now living in a makeshift tent camp in southern Lebanon, stranded between Israeli and Lebanese army lines.
Israel also guaranteed to assure humanitarian assistance to the deportees and to offer each the opportunity to appeal before a military tribunal.
In Israel, members of the government ex-pressed satisfaction with the compromise, but members of the opposition denounced Rabin for “caving in” to pressure from Washington.
Likud Knesset Member Moshe Katsav called the move a “surrender to the terrorist organizations, the leftist ministers and Arab countries.”
Rabin himself, who only last week appeared to defend the deportations as irreversible, said the decision to agree to the deal was “not easily taken.”
The prime minister said he chose to back down on his earlier position in order to save the peace process and build good relations with the Clinton administration.
American Jewish groups hailed the agreement and the way in which it was hammered out between Israel and the Clinton team.
In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement Monday calling the accord “a significant foreign policy achievement for the new administration that lays a firm foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.”
The Jewish umbrella group, pointing to the “significant concessions” by Israel, said it hoped “the Security Council will end its deliberations on this issue and drop consideration of any further resolutions against Israel in this matter.”
RABIN TELEPHONES MUBARAK
There was uncertainty about how the Arab states would react to the deal.
The Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunis was reported to have rejected the plan out of hand, charging that it was just a ploy to prevent U.N. denunciation of Israel.
The deportees themselves were also said to have dismissed the deal, insisting that they all be allowed to return to the territories immediately.
The resumption of the Middle East peace talks will hinge on whether the Arab parties can be persuaded to accept the compromise deal.
After the Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Rabin phoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ask for his help in carrying out the plan and getting the peace process back on track.
At the United Nations, Christopher said the United States “believes it is time to look ahead and reinvigorate the peace negotiations. The U.S. and Russia as co-sponsors will be conferring on this matter shortly to bring the parties back to the table.” Rabin stressed that the deal was not subject to further negotiations and that Israel would determine which deportees were to be returned. Israel said the men would return to the situation they had been in prior to expulsion, in most cases imprisonment.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Larry Yudelson at the United Nations and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)