Israel and Syria Talk Peace; Palestinian Issue Flares Up
Israel and Syria, for more than four decades the most implacable foes in the Middle East, put aside name-calling and hostility Tuesday to begin face-to-face negotiations about the substance of peace.
The Syrian-Israeli talks, the first time direct negotiations between the two countries have moved beyond procedural issues, contrasted with new wrangling between Israel and the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
That dispute prolonged for at least another day the procedural maneuvering that marked last week’s abortive start of the U.S.-brokered negotiations.
Israel demanded that its talks with the Jordanians and Palestinians occur in a single room to demonstrate that Jordan and the Palestinians are part of the same delegation. The Arabs wanted two rooms to establish that the Jordanians and Palestinians are separate peoples.
Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian chief delegates haggled for hours in the corridor while the rest of the delegations cooled their heels.
Although Israel and Syria failed to bridge the chasm between their positions, the atmosphere was a far cry from the Madrid conference six weeks ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called Syria “one of the most oppressive, tyrannical regimes in the world,” and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh called Shamir a terrorist and a murderer.
As he arrived at the State Department building Tuesday, chief Syrian negotiator Muwaffik Allaf told reporters: “We are offering peace in exchange for territory occupied by Israel, offering peace for ourselves and for them. . . . When we say peace, we mean peace. Peace is indivisible. Peace is everything for everyone.”
His remarks seemed intended to refute Israel’s often-repeated claim that Syria is unwilling to consider signing a peace treaty with Israel, even if Israel agrees to withdraw from the occupied Golan Heights.
But Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s deputy foreign minister and top foreign-policy spokesman, did not retreat from Israel’s claim that Syria is avoiding consideration of a treaty. Talking to reporters after the talks recessed, he said: “They did not respond to our calls for talking about peace treaties and contractual peace.”
The dispute between Syria and Israel centers on control of the Golan Heights. Syria demands the return of the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israel, which annexed the strategic mountain ridge in 1981, is determined to keep it.
After three hours of talks, Allaf and the chief Israeli negotiator, Yosef Ben-Aharon, agreed there was no real progress. But they agreed to meet again today.
The first Israeli-Syrian face-to-face meeting, Nov. 3 in Madrid, was limited to procedural issues. Previous bargaining between the adversaries was carried out through foreign mediators.
Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian talks, once thought to be the most promising, broke down into another round of procedural battles and mutual recriminations. Each side accused the other of trying to rewrite the rules.
The Jordanians and the Palestinians agreed in Madrid to go into the talks as two autonomous groups. Jordan and the Palestinians named 14-member delegations and announced that issues affecting Palestinians would be discussed by 13 Palestinians and a token Jordanian; issues affecting Jordan would be negotiated by 13 Jordanians and a single Palestinian.
But Israel insisted on dealing with the joint delegation as a single unit--although Netanyahu said Israel is prepared to assign specific issues to subcommittees, whose membership would be weighted in favor of the Palestinians or the Jordanians, depending on whose interests were most affected.
The dispute appeared to be a replay of last week’s battles over the date for starting the talks. But the Israelis and Arabs said it actually touched on the substance of the peace process: whether the Palestinians are to be treated as a distinct nationality.
Netanyahu told a news conference that Palestinian national aspirations “should be satisfied through Jordan.” He said Israel will not permit the Palestinians “to establish from the start that they are a separate political entity.”
Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi agreed that the issue is Palestinian identity, saying: “We will not be treated as a subcommittee. We are the Palestinians, and we are the core of the conflict.”
Jordanian spokesman Marwin Muasher said his country “can’t negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians. . . . The Palestinian situation is at the core of the process. . . . It has to be addressed as a separate track.”
Israel and the Arabs accused each other of violating the terms for the talks. Because of American efforts to paper over this dispute in setting up the conference, both were able to point to the U.S. invitation to support their position. At Israel’s insistence, the Jordanians and Palestinians were invited as part of a joint delegation; they agreed to come on that basis. But the wording of the invitation--agreed to by all sides in advance--called for “direct negotiations along two tracks, between Israel and the Arab states and between Israel and the Palestinians.”
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