Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Getting to 'Yes' in Mideast Talks US Undertakes Intense Closed-Door Diplomacy to Narrow Israeli, Palestinian Differences

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Getting to 'Yes' in Mideast Talks US Undertakes Intense Closed-Door Diplomacy to Narrow Israeli, Palestinian Differences

Article excerpt

NOW that Israelis and Palestinians have staked out remarkably similar positions on attending Middle East peace talks, the closed-door diplomatic effort to narrow their differences has begun in earnest.

Last week, after five months of often frustrating shuttle diplomacy, United States Secretary of State James Baker III succeeded in extracting a conditional "yes" from Israel to attend an October peace conference, provided no Palestinians unacceptable to the Jewish state take part. The Israeli Cabinet endorsed the stance yesterday.

"That was the yes I was looking for from Israel," a pleased Mr. Baker said Thursday.

The following day, the secretary got something less than a qualified "yes" from three Palestinian residents from the Israeli-occupied territories, but it was not far from it. Baker left the session with a list of Palestinian conditions for attending a conference, an event the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said it would "welcome."

"The PLO answer (to Baker) was, let's say, a positive inclination," says Hanan Ashrawi, who, like the other Palestinians to meet with Baker, says she answers to PLO headquarters in Tunis.

Despite the differing semantics, both sides have indicated a willingness to attend peace talks sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union, but under certain, specific conditions. And both sides say they are awaiting written American assurances on these issues before making a commitment to attend.

Israeli demands center on the following: that PLO members or supporters and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem do not take part in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The Israelis have said in recent days that Baker has privately agreed to these conditions.

The Palestinians who met with Baker acknowledged pressure to bend on the makeup of a delegation, especially the East Jerusalem resident. "Baker told us that the American position continues to be there will be no (Israeli) veto on Palestinian representatives, but he trusts that Palestinians understand (American) constraints," says Faisal Husseini, leader of the Palestinian delegation. …

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