U.S. Willing to Talk With Palestinians
The United States, overriding Israeli objections, hopes to meet soon with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that will probably include people with close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Friday.
Speaking at a news conference after four days of meetings with Jordan’s King Hussein, Shultz said progress has been made in selecting Palestinian delegates acceptable both to the United States, which refuses to meet directly with PLO members, and to Jordan, which insists on an important role for the organization led by Yasser Arafat.
“We discussed it further and we haven’t got it nailed down by any means,” Shultz said. “Obviously, the key is having the right people there, but I think we’ve made a little headway on that. This is something that, if we can, we would like to put in place fairly soon.”
Shultz said Richard W. Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, would represent the United States if the meeting takes place. Previously, Washington has been reluctant to consider talking to a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, urging instead that the Arabs negotiate directly with Israel.
Israel has consistently urged the United States to shun talks with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres says it is prepared to negotiate with a Jordanian-Palestinian team--providing that the delegation contains no one linked to the PLO--but objects to any sort of preliminary talks.
In a speech Friday in Washington, Hussein said the next step in the Mideast peace process should be a dialogue between the United States and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation “to prepare the ground for a negotiated comprehensive settlement.” The monarch made it clear that the PLO must approve the Palestinian members of the delegation.
Repeating his claim that Arafat and the PLO are ready to endorse U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel to trade occupied territory for peace within internationally recognized borders, Hussein said:
“This is a historic breakthrough. This is the first time in the 39-year history of this conflict that Palestinian leaders and their people have been willing to accept a peaceful settlement.” He added that the PLO realizes it cannot achieve its objectives by armed force.
Hussein also came close to endorsing President Reagan’s becalmed Mideast peace initiative, which he and Arafat rejected almost three years ago. The Israeli government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin turned down the Reagan plan within hours of its presentation Sept. 1, 1982. The plan calls for Palestinian self-government in association with Jordan in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank of the Jordan River.
Asked to list the significant differences between the Reagan initiative and his own idea for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, Hussein said he could not think of any.
However, the king’s change of position did not produce an enthusiastic response from U.S. officials. When Shultz was asked if the United States planned to capitalize on Hussein’s new warmth to the Reagan initiative by trying to win Israeli support for it, he replied that the President’s proposals were merely ideas for a possible settlement--not something Washington would attempt to impose on either Israel or the Arabs.
Selection of Palestinian members for a delegation with Jordan has become a major symbolic issue. Shultz revived a possible compromise that appeared to have been discarded three weeks ago when he noted that some members of the Palestine National Council--the PLO-dominated “parliament in exile"--are not avowed members of the PLO. He hinted that some of these people would be acceptable both to the PLO and the United States.
The State Department floated such a suggestion before Shultz’s trip to Israel, Egypt and Jordan in mid-May. However, Israel said the council is no more acceptable as a negotiating partner than the PLO.
At that time, the Israeli objection seemed to shoot down the compromise because it was assumed that the same Arab delegation that might confer with the United States would later negotiate with Israel.
However, Shultz now says there might be different delegations for different purposes--opening the way for the United States to talk to people the Israelis refuse to recognize.