Palestinians Push for U.N. Deal to Resolve Deportation Crisis

The Palestinians would drop demands for U.N. sanctions against Israel if the international body could broker a compromise deal to resolve the current deportation crisis, said Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi.

“Sanctions are not the objective, but the means,” said Ashrawi, official spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks.

In a telephone interview Tuesday with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ashrawi said Palestinians would be satisfied if they “can get the objective without sanctions.”

Ashrawi emphasized that Palestinians objected to efforts by Israel and the United States to work out a compromise deal that bypassed the United Nations.

Ashrawi was in Washington meeting with White House and State Department officials as part of the Clinton administration’s attempt to get the Middle East peace process back on track.

It appears that the peace negotiations will remain stalled until an acceptable solution has been found to the crisis over the 415 Palestinian activists deported by Israel last December to south Lebanon.

Israel, in consultation with the United States, offered a compromise plan last week to accept back immediately 100 of the deportees and shorten the term of exile of the others to a maximum of one year, but Palestinians have rejected the proposal.

The U.S. position on the deportees continues to be that Israel’s offer meets the requirements of U.N. Security Council resolution 799, which called on Israel to reverse the deportations.

The United States does not “think there’s any further action necessary in the Security Council,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday at the daily briefing, reiterating what has become an almost constant refrain since the announcement of the Israeli compromise.

U.S. POSITION ON DEPORTEES UNCHANGED

“I don’t see our position changing,” said one administration official involved in the negotiations. The official also said that “there seems to be less interest in New York to push sanctions resolutions.”

But Ashrawi said Tuesday that the U.S. Israeli arrangement “legitimized” the deportations. “We see it as a bilateral deal that seeks to get Israel off the hook in terms of implementing” U.N. resolution 799, she said.

With Secretary of State Warren Christopher scheduled to travel to the Middle East later this month, concern is growing that the deportation issue, if not resolved soon, could overshadow the trip and stand in the way of progress on the peace process.

State department officials have been hard at work to defuse the deportation issue and held a series of meetings Monday and Tuesday with Israelis and Arabs connected to the peace process.

Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s new ambassador to Washington, and three members of the Israeli negotiating team met Tuesday afternoon with Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian to discuss the next round of peace talks, specifically the Palestinian track.

Israeli officials said the meeting was also focused on Christopher’s upcoming trip to the region.

Also at the State Department on Tuesday, Djerejian met with the ambassadors from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Ashrawi said her meetings with Djerejian and other U.S. officials were “constructive,” adding that she discussed with the American officials the difference between the American and Palestinian positions on the deportees and whether the compromise arrangement satisfies the U.N. resolution.

Ashrawi, who said she would be holding more meetings with U.S. government officials Thursday, said the Palestinians hoped the deportation issue would be resolved before Christopher’s trip to the region, so that the trip would be “substance” rather than “damage control.

“We would like to put the deportation issue behind us,” she said.

But in Israel, Cabinet ministers insisted the government would not make any more concessions on the issue. Minister of Health Haim Ramon said the United States was aware of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s determination not to waver from its agreement.

In Washington, an Israeli Embassy Yaron said there has been “no discussion to reopen the understanding between” Christopher and Rabin on the deportation issue.

Richard Haass, Mideast White House adviser in the Bush administration, said this past week that he hopes the deportation situation does not result in another U.N. Security Council vote.

“I’ve never believed in making Middle East peace process policy in the Security Council,” he said.

The only people who “want to go to the U.N.” are people who “want to weaken the U.S.-Israeli relationship, or somehow weaken the American role,” Haass said.

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