Rabin Says Progress in Peace Talks Now Up to Syrians and Palestinians

Responsibility for the peace process now rests with Syria and the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told leaders of Jewish organizations here Thursday, toward the end of his weeklong visit to the United States.

Having agreed in principle to a withdrawal of forces on the Golan Heights, Israel is now waiting to hear from Syria what sort of peace it envisions in exchange and whether it is willing to sign an agreement that does not depend on the status of negotiations with the other partners.

Rabin said he told President Clinton on Monday that so far, Syrian President Hafez Assad “has not done even 1 percent” of what the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did to convince public opinion both at home and in Israel that he truly desires peace.

Sadat’s efforts were made most manifest in his celebrated 1977 trip to Jerusalem.

The prime minister suggested that by its willingness to negotiate, his Labor government has placed Syria in a new bind.

“Assad thought he could go to negotiations without making an effort,” because the Likud government insisted on negotiating “peace for peace,” without reference to territorial compromise, a position, Rabin said, that “no one else” accepted.

Similarly, he said, the Palestinian negotiators “face a new challenge,” now that Israel is ready for broad general elections for an interim Palestinian self-governing authority, rather than the municipal elections previously proposed.

Noting that the Palestinian negotiating team “doesn’t move without getting approval from the people in Tunis,” Rabin blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, which is based there, for the slow progress in the peace talks.

NO FURTHER PRESSURE FROM U.S.

“In my humble opinion, there are key people in Tunisia who don’t want the agreement they were committed to by accepting the invitation to Madrid,” he said, referring to the opening round of the peace talks in October 1991.

“But there are, in my opinion, people in the territories who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past” of missing opportunities for peace, he said.

The Palestinians have said they will not come back to the negotiating table until Israel allows home the 400 Islamic fundamentalist activists it deported to Lebanon in December.

They have rejected an American-brokered compromise that would allow some of the deportees to return immediately and the rest to come back by the end of the year.

There had been speculation that the United States would pressure Israel to make further concessions on this front, to ensure that the peace talks do indeed resume. So far, none of the Arab negotiating teams has responded to the invitations for the next round of the talks, scheduled to open April 20 in Washington.

But Rabin seemed to confirm reports in the Israeli press that the Clinton administration had not pressed him for further concessions.

The prime-minister remained unapologetic for the deportations, which Initially aroused a storm of outrage, most notably in the form of a harsh condemnation from the U.N. Security Council.

He said that the foremost reason he agreed to the American-brokered compromise was “the need to start with the new administration on the right foot” and only secondarily “to facilitate the resumption of peace negotiations.”

Between the present Israeli and American governments, a sense of “confidence and credibility” has been established, Rabin told the 150 people attending Thursday’s meeting, which was sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Reporting briefly on his talks with Clinton and other administration officials, he said that the president suggested “upgrading the discussion of the scope and scale of military cooperation, to discuss additional issues in the region.”

LINK TO BOMBING IN ARGENTINA

Among those issues would be the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. When Rabin addressed U.S. Jewish leaders shortly after his election last summer, he stressed that the need for peace negotiations was impelled, in part, by the growing threat from fundamentalist Iran.

Those warnings have taken on more immediacy with the indictment of three people linked to Islamic fundamentalism for the bombing of New York’s World Trade Center.

“I won’t elaborate about those who were indicted here,” said the prime minister. “During the trial, many things will be discovered.”

He also said he is “quite sure” Islamic fundamentalism was involved in the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina one year ago.

In addition to the Conference of Presidents appearance, Rabin met Thursday with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. But a planned dinner with the secretary-general was canceled, to enable Rabin to fly back before the weekend to deal with domestic crises, most notably the upsurge of terrorism.

On Wednesday, Rabin met with Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as well as with Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress.

The prime minister arrived in New York from Washington, where he met Tuesday and Wednesday with congressional leaders, following his meetings earlier in the week with Clinton administration officials.

Among the members of Congress the prime minister saw was House Speaker Thomas Foley (D-Wash.), who told Rabin he was pleased that the Clinton administration had agreed to maintain the current level of annual aid to Israel for the 1994 fiscal year.

Foley indicated that Congress would act in the same spirit, according to an official at the Israeli Embassy.

“It was not a commitment,” the official said, “but it was an important statement.”

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Deborah Kalb of States News Service in Washington.)

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