JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
Israel is expecting to come under pressure to make further concessions on the deportation crisis, following U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s visit to Arab capitals, where leaders told him Palestinians would boycott the peace talks unless the issue is resolved.
Israeli officials originally believed that a compromise deal worked out with Washington regarding the 415 Palestinians deported by Israel to Lebanon in December had taken the issue off the international agenda and paved the way for a resumption of the peace talks.
However, according to reports received from the Christopher shuttle, both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Hafez Assad indicated the Palestinians would not return to the talks unless Israel made further concessions.
Israel has offered to take back immediately 101 deportees and the rest by the end of the year, but the Palestinians have rejected the deal.
Mubarak reportedly demanded three concessions: that Israel announce officially it would not resort again to deportations as a punitive measure; that it would accelerate the appeal process by which deportees have an opportunity to get their deportation orders canceled; and that the deportees be allowed to stay in the Israeli-controlled security zone of southern Lebanon until they return home.
Egypt reportedly suggested a third of the deportees be returned immediately, another third be returned in April and the rest by June.
NO OFFICIAL CHANGE IN POLICY
Christopher, who was to arrive in Jerusalem on Monday, was not expected to exert direct pressure on Israel for further concessions, so as not to retreat from his agreement with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
However, it was expected here that he would convey to Israel the feeling in the Arab world that without further concessions, progress in the peace talks would be slow and the Palestinians would not show up at the negotiating table.
At the end of his visit to Jordan over the weekend, Christopher said Israel should find “soon” a way of allowing the return of most of the deportees.
Officially, there has been no further change in the Israeli position on the deportees since Rabin made his compromise offer. However, Israel is reportedly weighing several gestures of good will toward the Palestinians in the territories.
Such moves might include cutting terminal fees at the Allenby Bridge, used by Palestinian families crossing between Israel and Jordan, as well as new economic policies to facilitate Palestinian enterprises.
Israeli leaders said they did not expect any progress in the peace process before Rabin visits the United States next month and meets with President Clinton.
Mubarak has also been invited to meet with Clinton, but according to reports from Jordan, an invitation was not extended to King Hussein.