Israel Accepts Baker Plan For Mideast Talks - With Reservations
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens has notified Secretary of State James A. Baker III that his government accepts a U.S. plan for Palestinian negotiations, with two reservations, the Israeli embassy said today.
One proviso is that Baker provide assurances that the Palestine Liberation Organization will not participate in the talks. The other is that any Israeli meeting with Palestinians before elections are conducted on the West Bank and in Gaza would be restricted to arrangements for the balloting, said Ruth Yaron, the embassy spokeswoman.
Baker’s spokeswoman, Margaret Tutwiler, said: ″The (Arens) letter reinforces what we believe - that they are engaged and they are working really hard to try to bridge these gaps.″
Ms. Tutwiler said all parties had ″tough decisions to make.″ She added: ″We are hopeful we can deal with all of their concerns and launch an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. They key now is to get an agreement on a framework that will enable us to launch the dialogue.″
At the same time, Ms. Tutwiler declined to describe Arens’ letter as acceptance or rejection of Baker’s approach to negotiations.
Arens’ letter outlining his government’s position was delivered by Ambasador Moshe Arad after Baker returned Monday from a speaking trip to San Francisco
″He is not optimistic or pessimistic,″ a U.S. official said after Baker read the letter. ″He is realistic.″
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, meanwhile, told reporters during a tour of the Golan Heights that ″Israel will agree to the plan after the changes we proposed are accepted.″
He called the exchange with Baker positive. ″I don’t see any large gap between our views and the proposals of the secretary of state, but there are some differences,″ he said.
The prime minister added that ″in a few days we will know if there is an agreement or not.″
However, members of the opposition Labor Party, which supports the Baker proposal without reservations, said they would stage a walkout in parliament to protest the government’s stand.
″I don’t see anything in Baker’s proposal that needs to be changed,″ said Labor leader Shirom Peres.
Arens informed Baker in the letter that Israel ″accepted basically″ his five-point proposal for a meeting with Palestinians, Mrs. Yaron said.
Baker’s proposal included an assurance that Israel would be ″satisfied″ with the composition of the delegation and it assigned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a middle-man role of consulting with the PLO.
However, Mrs. Yaron said Arens also requested what she called two ″tactical changes.″ One would assure Israel that the PLO would not participate in the meeting and the other would limit the agenda to the election itself.
Shamir, Arens and other members of the ruling Likud coalition have been concerned from the outset that the meeting would turn into a negotiating session. Shamir’s election plan provides for negotiations after the 1.4 million Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza choose their representatives.
The PLO, meanwhile, has rejected both the Shamir and Baker proposals. It was not clear whether an Israeli-Palestinian meeting could be held without at least PLO acquiesence.
″We have been saying all along that we do want to advance the peace process,″ Mrs. Yaron told a reporter. ″However, we had two concerns - participation of the PLO and the agenda - in order not to set back the peace process.″
Baker was expected to reply to Arens, but the Israeli foreign minister was on a trip to Brussels, which could delay temporarily further contact between the two officials.
Last week, as Baker’s drive to set up negotiations approached a critical point, Shamir appealed for U.S. help in drawing Palestinian Arabs into the election plan.
Shamir, in a letter to Baker delivered last Wednesday, urged the administration to help overcome ″intimidation″ keeping Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza from participating in the prime minister’s proposal for elections, diplomatic sources said.
Shamir also asked Baker to try to enlist moderate Arab governments, such as Morocco and Jordan, to join with Egypt in trying to implement the elections proposal, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Baker followed up the letter in a telephone coversation with Shamir last Thursday evening and with Foreign Minister Arens on Friday morning. He then went to his ranch in Wyoming for the weekend and to San Francisco for the arms control speech on Monday.
A senior U.S. official said on Friday that Baker was ″not going to pursue this from here to eternity.″ Also, the official said, Baker was giving the Palestinian problem ″100 percent, but there could be a limit to how long you continue.″
But the diplomaic sources questioned the notion that Baker was reaching a dead end.
″You have a dialogue at the very highest level. It is very substantial. They are discussing substantial ideas that might lead to a breakthrough,″ said one source.
Baker’s five-point proposal was put forward privately last month in an effort to implement Shamir’s election plan. While only the fifth point - a meeting be held with Israel and Egypt before the election - has been officially confirmed, the four others are known to include:
- Talks be held between Israel and Palestinians.
- The meeting is designed to hold elections.
- Israel is to be ″satisfied″ with the delegation’s composition.
- Mubarak is free to consult any Middle Eastern parties about the makeup of the delegation.