JERUSALEM (Feb. 2)
By agreeing this week to take back 100 of the Palestinians it deported to Lebanon, Israel may have successfully averted the imposition of punitive sanctions by the United Nations.
But it is not yet clear whether the Israeli move, hailed by Washington and viewed at home as a major concession, will persuade the Arabs to return to the negotiating table.
Under the “package deal” described by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the United States has agreed to block any “practical” action against Israel, such as U.N. sanctions, in exchange for Israel’s willingness to take back 100 of the deportees and review the cases of the other 300 or so it expelled from the administered territories in December.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher made clear America’s resolve to back Israel on the issue by declaring Monday that Jerusalem had complied with the U.N. Security Council’s Dec. 18 resolution demanding the return of the deportees.
But it will be an empty victory if such key Arab states as Syria and Jordan refuse to resume peace talks with Israel, as the Palestinians have threatened to do.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres observed this week that the first reactions to Israel’s move from the Arab world may not be the final word on the subject.
MULTILATERAL TALKS IN DOUBT
Syria’s position is critically important. Reaction from Damascus has so far been muted, leading some observers to believe that President Hafez Assad will go along with the deal and was perhaps consulted.
In this regard, observers here are wondering whether the deal cut between Rabin and Christopher also included discussions about a land-for-peace agreement on the Golan Heights meant to appease Syria, even in the face of Arab world criticism.
The first test on the fate of the peace talks may come next week. Although the next round of the bilateral peace talks has not yet been scheduled, two sets of multilateral talks in the fields of arms control and economic development are slated to convene next Monday.
If Syria decides not to show up, though, it will be no great disappointment, since Damascus has boycotted the multilateral talks from the start. Syria, along with its client Lebanon, has said it will only attend the multilateral talks once tangible progress is made in the bilateral talks.
As for the Palestinians, they have not previously been asked to take part in the arms control talks, although they were due to be invited for this round.
Israel seems to be counting on Egypt to bring to the table the other dozen or so Arab parties participating in the multilateral. Egypt has indicated it will come, regardless of the deportation crisis.
Rabin made a point of phoning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak immediately after the Israeli Cabinet approved the compromise on the deportees and before Rabin announced the deal publicly at a news conference. The prime minister reportedly consulted intensively with the Egyptians when devising the plan.
There is some question whether America, as co-host of the talks with Russia, will go ahead and risk issuing invitations for next week’s talks.
If the invitations were issued and then rejected, the United States would suffer a diplomatic defeat, and the deportation crisis would be seen as having doomed both the multilateral talks and the chances for a resumption of the bilateral negotiations.
But that is Washington’s problem, Israeli officials here seem to feel. They believe the Rabin government has done its share and that it is now up to the United States to use all its diplomatic energies to get the rest of the world, especially the Arabs, to come on board.