The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday submitted to the Israeli government a list of potential Palestinian negotiating partners for preliminary Arab-American talks on Middle East peace, and both Israeli officials and senior Palestinian leaders from the occupied territories promptly criticized the nominees.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres expressed disappointment that certain moderate Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not on the list, which was proposed by Jordan's King Hussein. Peres said that as it stands, the list is unacceptable and "a bad opening move" in the peace process.
Neither American nor Israeli officials would disclose the names on the list. However, knowledgeable diplomatic sources here confirmed that there are some Palestinians from the occupied territories on the list, either as proposed delegates or as observers. Other published accounts suggest that there may be multiple lists circulating here.
In a nationally televised interview, Peres said the United States has not expressed its assessment of the proposed delegates and that Israel is not expected at this stage to react officially to the list.
However, informed sources here said that Israeli intelligence has been ordered to submit reports by early next week on the seven names said to be on the list. The information is expected to be used by the government to argue against any American meeting with the proposed delegates, all of whom officials here consider too closely identified with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel television said the seven are all members of the Palestine National Council--the so-called Palestinian parliament in exile. It said one proposed delegate is a leading member of the mainstream Fatah branch of the PLO.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said in a television interview that for the United States to meet with the proposed delegation would be "against the American commitment not to hold talks with PLO members." He said the Palestine National Council "is an inseparable part of the PLO" and stressed that "this is the official and united position of the Israeli government."
Meanwhile, the deposed former mayor of Gaza, Rashid Shawa, expressed concern that Palestinians from Israeli-occupied territories may be inadequately represented on the list. "Although the PLO is officially our legal spokesman, still I feel that the people from the occupied territories, living in the occupied territories . . . should be represented," Shawa said.
Shawa, once the senior Arab official in the Gaza Strip, was removed from office by the Israeli administration in 1982 for what Israel called failure to maintain proper municipal services. However, he is considered a moderate Palestinian leader and is regarded here as one with whom Israel would be willing to negotiate. Prime Minister Peres signaled his willingness to deal with such moderates by meeting for three hours Tuesday night with Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij and Nablus businessman Hikmet Masri, the uncle of Jordanian Foreign Minister Taher Masri.
A spokesman for Peres said the meeting with Freij and Masri was arranged some time ago and had no connection with the stepped-up activity surrounding the composition of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The spokesman said the meeting was part of "a continuing dialogue" over conditions on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak first proposed last winter that the United States meet with a joint delegation of Jordanians and Palestinians to prepare the way for direct peace talks with Israel. The United States said it is willing to go along provided the delegation does not include members of the PLO, with whom Israel refuses to negotiate.
Jordan submitted a PLO-approved list of proposed Palestinian delegates to Washington last week.
Israel opposes preliminary Arab-American talks on grounds that only direct talks between itself and its Arab neighbors can advance the peace process. Israeli officials have warned Washington that the proposal for preliminary talks is only a ruse to win de facto U. S. recognition of the PLO, and that once the Arab-American talks are completed, the PLO will block any direct negotiations between Jordan and Israel.
American officials say that Washington has promised Hussein to pursue the latest peace initiative and that the hope is for U. S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy to meet with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, probably in Amman, as early as the end of this month.
The Reagan Administration has promised to consult Israel throughout the process but has stressed that Israel has no veto power over any list of proposed delegates.
A spokesman for Peres confirmed that the proposed list of Palestinian delegates was handed over by Robert Flaten, charge d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, on Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier, Israel radio reported that the so-called "inner Cabinet" of senior Israeli ministers, meeting Wednesday morning, had discussed a list of delegates proposed by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The source of this list was not immediately clear. It was also unclear whether the list handed over by Flaten and the one reviewed at the Cabinet meeting were identical. Peres' spokesman refused comment.
Hanna Seniora, editor of the pro-PLO East Jerusalem daily newspaper Al Fajr, was named in some press reports as being on the list of proposed delegates. But he indicated this morning that he was not consulted in advance and was unsure of his status. "Some people say we're delegates, some say we're observers," he said.