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U.S. Criticizes Israel Position but Talks Softly

From Times Wire Services

The State Department on Thursday criticized tough conditions set by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud Party for a Palestinian election but said the Israeli stance is unofficial and a matter of partisan politics.

“Partisan declarations, particularly if they appear to be more restrictive or impose conditions, do not advance the process,” spokesman Richard Boucher said of the position announced Wednesday by Shamir under pressure from more hard-line members of his political party.

At the party meeting in Tel Aviv, Shamir had pledged that his election plan, announced in May, will not result in Palestinian independence or control of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by any Arab government.

He said Arab residents of East Jerusalem would be excluded from the vote and that Israel will continue to build Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. He also barred any negotiations until the 19-month-old Arab uprising ends in the territories.

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Talking to reporters in Washington, Boucher stressed that the May plan, which would allow Arabs to elect delegates willing to negotiate an autonomy arrangement with Israel, has the endorsement of the Israeli Cabinet and the Bush Administration and still provides “the most realistic way to advance the peace process.”

Boucher called on Palestinians to accept the proposal and to open talks with Israel “to flesh out the details of the initiative and to make elections and negotiations work.”

However, in Tunis, Ahmed Abdul-Rahim, spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the conditions approved by Shamir and the Likud close the door to peace.

Abdul-Rahim said the Palestinian uprising, in which hundreds have died, will be “escalated because this is the only answer to intransigence.”

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The toughened stance of rightist Likud is also causing friction with the center-left Labor Party, Likud’s partner in Israel’s coalition government.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Thursday that Labor is considering pulling out of the government as a protest.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the Security Council passed a resolution Thursday that “deeply regrets” Israel’s expulsion of eight Palestinians from the occupied lands. The vote was 14-0, with the United States abstaining.

In several days of negotiations, the United States succeeded in having the resolution’s language softened from “deplores” to “deeply regrets.”

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