Rabin, Peres Reportedly at Odds over How to Break Peace Deadlock

Differences have emerged between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres over strategy in the Middle East peace process, with Rabin preferring that an Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles be specific and Peres favoring a vaguer formulation.

The differences in emphasis became apparent during the visit this week of American emissary Dennis Ross, whose aim was to bridge the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians on a joint declaration.

Rabin’s office pressed for precise wording, while the Foreign Ministry preferred more flexible language that could be agreed upon by both sides more easily.

Ross, the U.S. coordinator of the Middle East peace talks, left Israel for the United States on Wednesday after a weeklong tour of the region that included stops in Egypt, Syria and Jordan produced few tangible results.

Peres expressed the view that the potential bones of contention in the negotiations should be left to the end. In the meantime, he suggested, the differences should be bypassed by concentrating on issues for which agreement could be reached.

Peres said that a written document on delicate issues such as Jerusalem and the jurisdiction over the proposed autonomy could widen the gap instead of narrowing it.

Rabin’s office, on the other hand, wanted more precision in the wording of the negotiated document to prevent “unpleasant surprises in the future.”

The Palestinian delegation appeared to agree with Rabin in wanting clarity.

“If you have a clear set of principles,” said Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, “then it becomes easier to talk about modalities.”

Failure to reach an understanding on the declaration of principles, said Ashrawi, would mean there could be no agreement on a starting point. In that case, she suggested, the present framework of the peace process would come to an end and one would have to think of alternatives.

Alternatives, she suggested, could involve “higher leadership contacts on both sides” or perhaps discussion of the permanent status of the territories rather than merely the interim status.

Ashrawi hinted at two developments this week. One was the possibility of pushing up the level of negotiations to direct talks between the Israeli government and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The other was the accelerated negotiations between Jordan and the PLO on establishing a confederation between Jordan and the territories.

According to reports from Amman, high-level officials of Jordan and the PLO met Monday and established six working committees to strengthen ties between Jordan and the administered territories and explore the possibility of a future confederation.

Palestinian sources in eastern Jerusalem said such a confederation could offer a solution to the differences between the Palestinians and Israel over the future fate of the territories.

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