The State Department, trying to devise a formula to get Israel and its Arab neighbors to the bargaining table, said Tuesday that any agreement on the final status of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip “should receive the prior consent of the inhabitants of those territories.”
The statement, read by Department spokesman Edward P. Djerejian, appears to be intended to reassure the Palestinians that the United States will not endorse any deal that is unacceptable to the residents of the territories occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967.
“It is our view that there should be Palestinian participation at every stage of the negotiating process,” Djerejian said. “In addition, any agreement on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza should receive the prior consent of the inhabitants of those territories.”
The first sentence has been included in official statements of U.S. Middle East policy for years. However, the second sentence has not been part of the government’s standard position recently--although a senior official said it is not entirely new.
By reviving the formula now, the department seems to be acknowledging that its chief Middle East strategist, Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy, was unable to bring representative Palestinians into the bargaining process during a trip to the region that ended earlier this week.
The U.S. government advocates direct negotiations between Israel and a joint delegation of Jordanians and Palestinians who are not closely identified with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
However, Arab governments have been reluctant to exclude the PLO, which they consider the only legal representative of the Palestinians, and Israel refuses to deal with the PLO, which it considers a terrorist organization.
Residents of the two territories generally are believed to support the PLO.
Finessing the Issue
The latest U.S. plan, which would guarantee the 1.3 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza a final vote on any agreed package, might help finesse the issue of Palestinian representation at the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, sources on Capitol Hill said the Administration has signaled its approval of a $1.5-billion increase in foreign aid for Israel, bringing the total to $4.5 billion.
Officials of the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget said no final decision has been made, but they indicated that the Administration is leaning toward the increase.
Shultz had asked Congress to delay action on the aid until Israel adopts economic reforms to control the country’s ruinous inflation.
In a letter to Shultz last week, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres outlined a new austerity program in an effort to qualify for the increased aid.