JERUSALEM (May. 12)
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sounded an upbeat note on the peace process this week when he said that the current round of negotiations in Washington has broken new substantive ground.
The foreign minister pointed with satisfaction to the-fact that the Palestinians and Israelis had exchanged draft versions of a joint statement of principles on a proposed autonomy agreement.
“Now we know at least the gaps,” he said, and “we shall have to bridge them.”
Peres, speaking Wednesday to members of the foreign press in Israel, said he hoped the sides would reach agreement on a joint statement before the end of the round.
A big difference between the Israeli and Palestinian draft proposals, he said, is that the Palestinians wish to draw up a map delineating the “frontiers” of an autonomy area proposed as an interim settlement.
The Israelis, however, believe such a map cannot be drawn in “the present climate.” Instead, they suggested that a “calendar” be drawn up to provide a timetable for autonomy.
The other main difference is the “nature and scope of the division of labor” between the Palestinians and Israelis in the autonomy area, said Peres.
“Again, the Palestinians would like to gain complete control right away,” he said, while Israel wants to set limits, namely in areas of security and the fate of Jewish settlers living in the territories.
Even if the parties are unable to reach a joint declaration by the end of this round, he said, the next round is likely to begin “from a much more advanced point” on the nature and scope of Palestinian self-government.
PERES NOT RULING OUT CONTACT WITH PLO
When asked whether it would be more effective for Israel to negotiate with a delegation that included the Palestine Liberation Organization based in Tunis; Peres did not rule it out as a future option.
He said Israel is well aware that the delegation now consults with the PLO. “But right now we have an ongoing arrangement of decision-making and for the time being it is satisfactory.”
The foreign minister also reiterated his belief that a confederation with Jordan is the natural final goal of an interim autonomy arrangement with the Palestinians.
Turning to Syria, Peres noted that the tone of President Hafez Assad in recent interviews was much more positive, but said he needed to go further.
“We welcome the music coming from Syria. But we would like not only the melody,” Peres said, “but also the words. We would like to see the Syrians spelling out very carefully what they mean by normalization and peace.”
The more specific they are, “the more Israel can take a clear position about the size and nature of our withdrawal,” Peres said.
The foreign minister was unequivocally tough on those Jewish extremists who have threatened to resist territorial concessions.
He said the majority of the people who live on the Golan Heights and in the territories support the democratic process, but “if there are single voices trying to shout in a high pitch, I am not interested.
“Whoever will question the nature of the Israeli democracy will find himself out of the camp,” he said.
Peres, meanwhile, sounded optimistic notes about the progress of the multilateral peace negotiations. There, he said, “our general idea, our open-ended vision (on regional cooperation and development) is gaining bones and blood.
“If the bilateral negotiations are dealing with the disputes of the past, the multilateral negotiations are dealing with the foundation of the future,” he said.
Relating to a different subject, Peres said he is scheduled to travel to India this weekend, the first official visit by an Israeli representative to that country.
He said there was interest on both sides for cooperation in economics, agriculture and tourism and said he expected a few agreements would be made during his visit.