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Israel Doesn’t Expect to Answer Yes This Time

August 1, 1991

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Despite reports that Israel has given a qualified ″yes″ to a Middle East peace conference, officials say the government does not expect to provide a final answer during Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s visit. Palestinians also are hesitating, saying they want peace but are not willing to pay too high a price.

The daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported today that Shamir relayed through Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Zalman Shoval, his agreement to take part in a U.S.-Soviet sponsored conference - but without changing his position on who can represent the Palestinians.

The agreement was reportedly Baker’s condition for returning to Jerusalem.

Baker made no statement after arriving today at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv and left the airport for a meeting in Jerusalem with Shamir, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and other officials. Baker was expected to hold talks with Palestinian leaders Friday.

The peace conference is planned as an opening meeting leading to direct talks between Israel, each Arab state and the Palestinians.

Yedioth Ahronoth said Israel has also agreed to the participation of Europe and a U.N. observer.

Shoval did not deny the report, saying on army radio that Israel has constantly said ″yes in principle.″

″But we always said that everything depends on agreement on a few questions, some of them procedural and some even essential,″ Shoval added.

Avi Pazner, a top aide to Shamir, said President Bush’s announcement with Mikhail S. Gorbachev on plans to sponsor a conference was not based on a certain affirmative answer from Israel.

″They can’t know this yet,″ Pazner said on army radio. ″There are still issues that have not yet been agreed on. And these are important issues that touch on the problem of the Palestinian representation.″

″In any case there is still a lot of work ahead of us,″ Pazner said.

Asked if Israel would give its answer during Baker’s visit, Pazner said ″It depends greatly on what Mr. Baker brings with him this evening.″

Pazner said Shamir would need Cabinet approval before giving a final answer. He said but he didn’t know if Shamir would be ready to take a plan to his ministers after Baker’s visit.

The issue of Palestinian negotiators is considered the major obstacle to peace talks. Israel refuses to accept a Palestinian delegate from east Jerusalem, fearing the presence would cast doubt on Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem.

Israel seized east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it.

Palestinians, who see east Jerusalem as the capital of their would-be state, also refuse any compromise on the issue.

Shoval told army radio he expected to get ″satisfying answers″ from Baker, adding he was optimistic that Baker ″knows what our positions are and what the government of Israel will accept.″

Israeli media reported a range of possible compromises. Israel radio said the government would propose that a Jordanian born in east Jerusalem participate in a Palestinian-Jordanian delegation. Army radio said the issue would be put off until a later stage.

Pazner declined to discuss any compromises before Baker’s visit.

Palestinians doubted agreement would be reached on the question of an east Jerusalem delegate during their meeting with Baker.

Palestinian leader Zakaria al-Agha was quoted by the national news agency Itim as saying: ″The United States and Israel will not decide who will be our official representatives to negotiations. Palestinians want peace, but not at the price of concessions made beforehand on positions and principles.″

In Tunisia, the Palestine Liberation Organization demanded the right to name Palestinian delegates.

Yasser Abd Rabbo, a member of the PLO’s decision-making executive committee, underscored the group’s standing position Wednesday, saying

Israel refuses to negotiate with the PLO, which it regards as a terrorist organization, and has rejected the idea of talks with Palestinians selected by the organization.

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