Secretary of State James A. Baker III today said it is “high time” for serious dialogue between Israel and Palestinians in the occupied lands and outlined for the first time specific steps each side should take to advance the Middle East peace process.
In an unusually tough speech to America’s leading pro-Israel lobbying group, he met stony silence as he urged Israel to “lay aside . . . the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel. . . . Forswear annexation. Stop settlement activity. Allow schools to reopen. Reach out to Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.”
To Arab countries, whose summit in Casablanca, Morocco, opens this week, Baker said: “Take concrete steps toward accommodation with Israel--not in place of the peace process but as a catalyst for it.
“End the economic boycott (of Israel). Stop the challenges to Israel’s standing in international organizations. Repudiate the odious line that Zionism is racism.”
He called on Palestinians to “speak with one voice for peace” and renounce the policy of plans for a phased destruction of Israel “in all languages, not just those addressed to the West.”
Palestinians should also amend the Palestine Liberation Organization covenant that calls for Israel’s destruction and “translate the dialogue of violence in the intifada (uprising) into a dialogue of politics and diplomacy,” Baker added.
Baker’s speech to 1,200 members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee placed major responsibility on Israel and Arabs to foster an atmosphere in which direct peace negotiations could eventually take place.
A State Department Middle East expert described the address as “straightforward; it doesn’t pull punches.” He said it was the toughest statement of U.S. views on the Middle East conflict that he had ever heard.
American Israel Public Affairs Committee delegates clapped when Baker made demands of Arabs for peace but sat in silence when he outlined similar requirements expected of the Jewish state.
Responding to U.S. pressure, Israel recently proposed a four-point peace initiative, including elections for a Palestinian delegation in the occupied lands that would negotiate a period of interim self-rule and later final status of the territories seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
Baker acknowledged that the Israeli plan “has given us something with which to work.”
But he stressed the U.S. view that “much work needs to be done to elicit Palestinian and Arab thinking on the key elements in the process, to flesh out some details of Israeli proposals and to bridge areas where viewpoints differ.”