JERUSALEM (Feb. 25)
Israeli leaders are hoping a U.S. decision to issue invitations for a ninth round of Middle East peace talks will bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced Thursday that invitations for the talks, to take place in April, will be issued shortly.
Christopher made the announcement in Geneva, where he met with his Russian counterpart a day after completing his weeklong visit to the Middle East.
But the U.S. secretary was evasive when asked if he had a firm commitment from the Palestinians to attend the talks.
In Jerusalem, the Palestinian negotiating delegation issued a statement saying that “while no final agreements have been reached, we are still engaged in ongoing discussions and hope to be able to solve outstanding issues in the near future.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Christopher’s announcement put the burden of responsibility on the Palestinians “to come back to the reality of the situation” and return to the peace talks.
The Palestinian statement appeared to be more positive than ones issued earlier this week, which still demanded a full resolution of the crisis over the 415 Palestinians whom Israel deported to Lebanon in December.
Earlier this month, Israel offered to take back 101 of the deportees immediately and the rest by the end of the year. That plan was backed by the United States but rejected by the Palestinians as insufficient.
On Thursday, Israeli leaders reiterated that no further concessions would be made.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said in Tel Aviv that if the Palestinians are hoping for changes in the American-Israeli understanding, “they can forget about it.”
But Rabin emphasized that, in accordance with the plan, all deportees would be allowed to return to the administered territories by the end of the year.
NO PLANS FOR DIALOGUE WITH PLO
Israel Television reported that the government is also considering allowing Palestinians who were permanently exiled years ago to return.
But it said Rabin has rejected a Palestinian demand that Israel renounce the future use of deportations as a punitive measure against the Palestinians.
“I don’t enjoy deportations,” the prime minister said. But he added: “If the level of violence is reduced, there will be no deportations.”
Rabin expressed the hope that the Americans and the Russians would take the necessary steps to reconvene the peace talks and that the fate of the peace process would not be determined by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat.
Palestinian spokespersons said they needed to get approval from Arafat and the PLO leadership before agreeing to return to the talks.
Christopher reportedly told Palestinian leaders this week that he regards the PLO as a group with terrorist tendencies and that the United States presently has no intention of reviving the dialogue with the organization that was suspended in June 1990.
A senior U.S. official traveling with Christopher told reporters that the secretary bluntly told the Palestinian delegation about this American position.
The official told reporters: “We think the PLO is an organization that is subject to the terrorist label in the sense that it is a part of an organization with terrorist tendencies.”
The statements are significant because they are the first clear indication of the Clinton administration’s stance on the PLO.
In Geneva, Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev spoke of their two countries’ intention to continue co-hosting the peace talks.
In a joint statement, Christopher and Kozyrev said: “The co-sponsors are convinced that at this point all sides must take additional steps to realize a historic opportunity to make progress toward a comprehensive, just and lasting Arab-Israeli peace settlement based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
“Russia and the United States agreed to intensify their role as honest brokers in the negotiations to promote forward movement in the peace process.”