Israelis Distressed by Stridency of Arab Speeches at Peach Parley
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Israelis Distressed by Stridency of Arab Speeches at Peach Parley

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Israeli and Arab delegates seemed to be talking at each other over each other, but not to each other Thursday, on the second day of the peace conference here.

Neither seemed pleased by the other side’s remarks after a day of long speeches, most of them replete with hard-line rhetoric.

While both sides hailed American efforts to arrange the conference, its next and most crucial phase remained in limbo.

Under the ground rules accepted by the parties, separate bilateral talks involving Israel and each of the Arab delegations, including a joint Jordanian-Palestinian one, must begin Sunday.

But there is no agreement yet on where to hold them. Israel insists on a Middle East venue, rotating between Israel and its neighbors.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir invited all to come to Israel. As might have been expected, the offer was flatly refused.

It appeared likely that the bilateral talks would open in Madrid, but where they will continue after that remained to be seen.

There was speculation the issue would be resolved by the time U.S. Secretary of State James Baker gave his closing speech Friday morning.

Shamir and several of the Israeli delegates were to leave immediately afterward, so that they could be home before the Sabbath began in Israel.

After two full days of rhetoric on both sides, it seemed the Israelis would return home upbeat about the American posture at the talks, but clearly angry and distressed by the accusatory tone and stridency of the Arab delegates.

The Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, was by far the most bellicose, demanding that Israel relinquish “every inch of Arab land occupied by the Israelis by war and force,” and return it to its “rightful owners” before Syria will face it at the peace table.


Jordan’s King Hussein made a surprise appearance via satellite Tuesday night, to urge all parties to stop quarreling over trivia and start working on a comprehensive peace.

Shamir delivered a long recital of Jewish and Zionist history, stressing repeatedly the unbreakable bond that links all Jewish people with the land of Israel. He blamed the Arab states for the plight of the Palestinians and the Palestinians for their own troubles.

In the eyes of the Palestinian delegation, Shamir offered no concessions. In the words of Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinians, though not an official delegate, the Israeli leader addressed the Palestinians in the manner of the “occupier to the occupied.”

But Shamir made some cogent points. He recalled that the Arabs refused to accept Israel long before it took control of the territories its foes now want it to yield.

“There was no hint of recognition of Israel before the war in 1967, when the territories in question were not under Israeli control,” he said.

“The Arab regimes’ rejection of Israel’s existence in the Middle East, and the continuous war they have engaged against it, are part of history,” he said.

He accused the Arabs of trying to “rewrite this history, which depicts the Arabs as victims and Israel as the aggressor.” Shamir compared that to “attempts to deny the Holocaust.”

Nevertheless, Shamir declared, “we invite our partners to this process to come to Israel for the first round of talks. On our part, we are ready to go to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Syria for the same purpose.”

After quoting Isaiah on peace, he added, “Let us declare, here and now, an end to war, to belligerence and to hostility. Let us march forward together in reconciliation and peace.”

Tense moments developed when the chief of the Palestinian delegation, Haider Abdel-Shafi, all but acknowledged that the Palestine Liberation Organization was its guiding hand.

Israel refuses to talk to anyone connected with the PLO and had been promised by the United States that it would not have to.


Abdel-Shafi said he had been “denied the right to publicly acknowledge our loyalty to our leadership and system of government, but allegiance and loyalty cannot be severed.”

The Palestinian concluded his remarks with a quote from PLO chief Yasir Arafat to the U.N. General Assembly in 1974: “Let not the olive branch of peace fall from my hands.”

But he failed to note that Arafat said at the time that he had come to the United Nations bearing not only an olive branch but also a “freedom fighter’s gun.”

In any case, the Israeli delegation did not walk out, as some observers suspected it might under the circumstances.

Abdel-Shafi, a 72-year-old physician from the Gaza Strip, indicated in his speech that he found acceptable the idea of Palestinian autonomy as a provisional solution.

He stressed, however, that interim stages must not be made permanent. He said he was willing to prepare the groundwork for a confederation between a future Palestinian state and the Kingdom of Jordan.

The Israeli line, propounded by Shamir’s right-wing government, is that Jordan alone constitutes the Palestinian state.

At a news conference here, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the speeches by Arab delegates earlier in the day, “if read textually beyond the vituperation and even beyond the flowery words, effectively call for the dismantling of Israel.

“This is not the spirit, this is not the hope, that we have come here for,” he said.

“I would like to see from the Syrians concrete demonstrations of peace, and a good way to begin” is to accept Shamir’s offer to meet in Jerusalem and Arab capitals, he said.

“We don’t ask the Syrians to accept anything except our right to exist. Israel’s right to exist is no more negotiable than Syria’s right to exist,” Netanyahu added.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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