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Israel Makes Gesture to Palestinians by Agreeing to Take Back 30 Deportees

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Israel appeared to be making good this week on its promise to grant far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians once the ninth round of Middle East peace talks began.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin announced Wednesday that Israel would take back 30 Palestinians deported from the administered territories before the start of the intifada in December 1987.

An Israeli statement said the 30 deportees “were chosen in consultation with the Israeli security authorities, after a review determined that they were neither involved in terrorist attacks in the past, nor were they active in hostile terrorist activity during the course of their deportation.”

Here in Washington, Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said the 30 were picked from a longer list of recommended names given to the Israelis by Palestinian representatives.

She said the Palestinians would continue to seek the return of additional deportees and that she and her colleagues were “still working on the speeded-up return” of the 400 Palestinians deported by Israel last December.

Ashrawi said the return of the 30 Palestinians, who represent a range of professions and occupations, “will make a difference to the community” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials had been saying for weeks that they would offer substantial proposals and gestures to the Palestinians, once the Palestinians returned to the negotiating table.

The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams met Tuesday afternoon for the first time in over four months, and the Palestinians seemed to be waiting for additional sessions before pronouncing judgment.

‘IT WAS A FRUITFUL DAY’

Ashrawi told reporters Wednesday that it was “too early to give a value judgment as to whether the (first) session has provided results.”

She said that the Israelis had presented “what they considered as a package,” consisting of discussions of “substance, the situation on the ground and early empowerment.”

“We talked on each subject in a general way, but with the understanding that more may be coming,” Israeli negotiator Elyakim Rubinstein told reporters Tuesday evening after the session.

“On some matters we were more specific,” he added, saying, “I feel it should remain in the negotiating room.”

“I think it was a fruitful day, to a reasonable extent,” he added.

Ashrawi characterized this round of talks as “one of the most critical and most difficult.”

Negotiations continued Wednesday between Israel and its four negotiating partners: the Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese.

The Israeli-Syrian negotiations are considered by some experts to be the most promising track But on Tuesday, the Israelis expressed concern that, although the Syrians were using the phrase “full peace for full withdrawal,” the definition of “full peace” remained unclear.

The Israelis have indicated that, in return for a full peace, including exchanges of ambassadors and trade relations, they would withdraw from the Golan Heights.

On Wednesday, the two sides agreed to renegotiate their joint statement of principles, Israeli spokesman Uri Palti reported. “This is sort of good news,” he said.

Itamar Rabinovich, the Israeli ambassador in Washington who also serves as head of the team negotiating with the Syrians, told reporters after Wednesday’s session that the two sides agreed that “the best thing is to go back to the working document that we have spent quite a bit of time trying to draft together in the previous rounds.”

This decision came after a discussion of the “full peace for full withdrawal” concept, in which the Israeli side attempted to explain to the Syrians why “we do not wish to reduce a complex reality or a complex approach into a condensed formula,” Rabinovich said.

‘VERY CONSTRUCTIVE’ ATMOSPHERE

The various participants in the Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Lebanese negotiations all seemed pleased with Wednesday’s sessions.

Jordanian chief negotiator Abdel Salam al-Majali told reporters Wednesday that he and his Israeli counterparts had “a very businesslike discussion.”

“Certainly, the news on what has taken place on the other Palestinian track was very encouraging” and makes the “atmosphere of the negotiation more hopeful that this round will come to better progress than the previous ones,” he added.

Rubinstein, who is also the chief Israeli negotiator with the Jordanians, told reporters after the session Wednesday that “it has been a positive day.”

And Lebanese chief negotiator Souheil Chammas, too, emerged from meetings with his Israeli counterparts Wednesday with a positive message.

“Today we have started what I call discussions of substance,” Chammas told reporters “We’re addressing the problems. We have made our views clear. The Israelis have done the same.”

His Israeli counterpart, Uri Lubrani, remarked that Wednesday’s meeting was “the first session in which substance has been touched, and we have begun to grapple with the problems at hand.”

“The atmosphere was very constructive, very businesslike,” Lubrani told reporters.

American officials, as well as Middle East negotiators, have been stressing the importance of this round of talks.

Speaking to a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders here Wednesday morning, State Department adviser Dennis Ross said the Clinton administration hopes to promote progress as quickly as it can in its role as “full partner” in the negotiations.

Ross, a former Bush administration official who is now special adviser to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, addressed some 400 members of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, whose Institute for Public Affairs was holding a national leadership conference here.

Ross told the group that in the four-month hiatus in the peace talks, opponents of the process have taken on greater importance in the region.

He pointed to groups such as the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement and the Islamic Jihad, which, he said, “are determined to destroy any possibility of peace.” Their targets, he said, “are as much Palestinian as Israeli.”

It is important, Ross said, that the “peace makers dominate the environment.”

‘CAN’T BUILD A BRIDGE TO NOWHERE’

Discussing the U.S. role as “full partner” in the negotiations, Ross said the administration would work with the various parties to clarify matters or offer suggestions on formulating proposals.

He said that whether or not the United States gets involved in making “bridging proposals” to close gaps between the parties’ respective positions depends on what the parties do.

“We can’t build a bridge to nowhere,” he said. “We can’t play our part if they’re not doing theirs.”

Another U.S. official involved in the peace process, Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian, offered similar comments about the U.S. role Wednesday.

“When the time is appropriate, and that is based on the parties narrowing their differences, whereby bridging proposals can then be introduced, we would be prepared to entertain our ideas on what proposals could bridge the gaps between the parties,” Djerejian told members of Congress.

In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, Djerejian reiterated the administration’s commitment to maintain aid to Israel and Egypt at its current level for fiscal year 1994, in part because of the importance of the peace process.

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