Israelis Report Progress Over Scope of Talks
Israeli officials said Tuesday that they have made progress in getting assurances from the United States about the scope of proposed Middle East peace talks. But, they hastened to add, there are still significant differences between Washington and Jerusalem over touchy issues of Palestinian representation.
“We can say that we have a certain progress in various matters relative to the peace process,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said. “We will have to have further discussions about many issues.” Added government spokesman Yossi Olmert, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
Secretary of State James A. Baker III delivered a list of guarantees, Israeli officials said. One limits the opening session that includes Israel, Arab states, the Palestinians and observers to a onetime-only ceremony. In addition, no such broad meeting can be reconvened without Israel’s approval.
Palestinian representatives are to be from only the West Bank and Gaza. This restriction is meant to preclude Palestinians from Jerusalem from taking part and to reduce the chances of control of the delegation by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
One newspaper said Baker guaranteed Washington’s opposition to creation of a Palestinian state. This report could not be confirmed.
The United States is reluctant to give Israel tight control over the Palestinian delegation and has refused to forbid Palestinians to mention affiliation with the PLO, Israeli officials said.
For their part, Palestinians met with Baker aides to work out their own letter of assurances. Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian delegate, traveled immediately to London to make contact with the PLO, carrying a document he said was from Baker. “The letter will be given to the Palestinian decision makers,” he said.
The Palestinians were pressing for a pledge from Washington that the status of Jerusalem, including Arab districts annexed by Israel, is negotiable. They want half of the city to be the capital of their proposed independent state. They also insist that talks result in eventual Israeli withdrawal from at least most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.