Israel Declares Deportation Crisis Over, Turns to Talks
Israel declared Saturday that the prolonged crisis over the 415 Palestinians exiled to southern Lebanon eight weeks ago is finished following the U.N. Security Council’s acceptance of Jerusalem’s pledge to return all the men by the end of this year.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Israel now will concentrate its efforts on reviving the peace negotiations with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians. The Washington talks were effectively broken off by the mass expulsion Dec. 17.
“The issue of the leaders of Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) who were removed came to its conclusion,” Rabin said in a statement, emphasizing that Israel considered the question resolved. “This formal conclusion at the Security Council paves the way for the resumption of the peace talks.”
But the deportees, only 101 of whom are allowed to come back immediately under the Israeli plan for phased repatriation and be returned to detention camps, heaped scorn on the U.N. action as merely diplomatic camouflage for the Israeli action and said the council had in reality achieved nothing.
“We reject this declaration totally because it is an attempt to get around Security Council Resolution 799,” Dr. Abdulaziz Rantisi, one of the deportees’ leaders, said at their mountainside encampment at Marj Zohour. “Our fixed position is the implementation to the letter of Resolution 799, which stipulates the return of all the deportees safely and immediately.”
To dramatize their rejection of the U.N. move, the deportees marched silently through their cold, rain-soaked camp and held a symbolic funeral for the Security Council, burying copies of the original resolution and Friday’s statement in a coffin.
The test now is whether the United States, which brokered the delicate diplomatic deal at the United Nations, can persuade the deportees through the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership to accept gradual repatriation.
So far, the 396 men still at the tent camp have declared that none will return until all are permitted to do so. A handful came back earlier for medical treatment or because Israel said they had been exiled in error.
“The U.S. will have to get some momentum going if this is going to work,” a senior European diplomat commented. “And for that it will need the help, first of all, of Syria and Saudi Arabia. . . .
“Israel would like to think this is over, a finished deal, but it must be implemented. For that, we need the first hundred to go, the second hundred to begin packing, the third hundred to know they will be back on a certain date and so forth. Then, the Saudis and Syrians can do their work at the camp.”
Washington will also be pressing Israel to “follow through expeditiously . . . allowing the return of all the deportees as soon as possible,” in the words of the U.N. Security Council statement, although the Clinton Administration pledged as part of the agreement with Jerusalem not to reopen the deportation issue as a whole or to seek further concessions.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher is scheduled to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Washington early this week and then to leave Wednesday for the Middle East with stops planned in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel over the following week.
The Security Council, in an effort to get the Arab-Israeli negotiations under way again, on Friday acknowledged as “consistent with” its earlier resolution Israel’s moves to repatriate the deportees before the end of the year.
Council President Ahmed Snoussi of Morocco, in a carefully crafted five-point statement, described Israel’s decision to permit a quarter of the men to return immediately as “a step in the right direction,” but urged the Rabin government to move faster in bringing back the others.
Gad Yaacobi, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, hailed the Security Council’s action, which effectively forestalled further debate on the issue and possible economic sanctions against his country, as “a great achievement for Israel.”
Peres, speaking to Israel Radio from New York, where he met last week with Snoussi and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said the arrangements for the Palestinians’ repatriation “answer the basic concerns” the Security Council had when it condemned the deportation and demanded the men’s return. “I think that members of the Security Council are as interested as we are in the resumption of the peace talks,” Peres said.
In Cairo, Esmat Abdel-Meguid, Arab League secretary general, said Saturday the Israeli agreement to accept 101 of the deportees immediately and speed the return of others should be viewed as “a step in the right direction.”
Rabin had ordered the 415 Palestinians exiled as suspected supporters of Hamas and another militant group, Islamic Jihad, in the wake of a series of attacks in early December on Israeli security forces in which six soldiers and policemen were killed.
Officials here said the deportees, originally exiled for periods of up to two years, were not believed to be involved directly in the guerrilla war against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but were regarded as the political leaders and organizers of the two Islamic groups.