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Britain and Israel Agree on Need for Direct Peace Talks, Levy Says

March 7, 1991
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Britain and Israel see eye-to-eye on Middle East peace, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said after a two-hour talk here Tuesday with Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd.

The two countries agree that the successful prosecution of the Persian Gulf war has increased the chances for peace in the region.

But they also agree that an international conference for Middle East peace would lead nowhere at this time, Levy said. The Foreign Office affirmed that an international conference no longer tops the agenda.

The British government instead . seems to accept the Israeli idea, set forth by Levy, of direct negotiations with the Arab states and parallel talks with the Palestinians.

But two British opposition parties, Labor and the Liberal Democrats, still favor an international peace conference under the auspices of the United Nations, a position long advocated by the European Community but opposed by Israel.

The Israeli foreign minister explained at a news conference Tuesday why he thinks direct talks are superior to the international conference scenario.

“As a person who understands the Arab mentality,” the Moroccan-born foreign minister said, “an Arab leader at a conference would not have to explain to his people that he was making peace if he were working under the auspices of a conference. On the other hand, in direct negotiations, the people would see that he meant to make peace.”

Any Arab leader who agrees to direct talks will find Israel a willing partner, Levy said.

He said Israel still stands by its May 1989 peace initiative calling for the election of Palestinian representatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with whom Israel would discuss autonomy and the eventual status of the territories.

The plan languished after Israel refused to hold talks with anyone remotely associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Palestinians “have to break the barrier of fear that the PLO has imposed on them,” Levy said at the news conference. In any event, the PLO has been sidestepped because it supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war, he said.

The foreign minister stressed that “Israel will enter into a peace process with prior conditions. This means that you cannot decide from the beginning what the outcome will be.”

He described his meeting with Hurd as “very constructive and helpful.”

Foreign Office sources said Levy displayed a constructive attitude about solving the Arab-Israeli dispute. Though they saw no signs of an immediate breakthrough, they liked the idea of parallel talks, an approach that also has been backed by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who is due to visit Israel on Monday.

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