Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israelis, Arabs Plan Strategies Facing Pressure to Leave Occupied Territories, Israel Can Take Refuge in Talks' Structure

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israelis, Arabs Plan Strategies Facing Pressure to Leave Occupied Territories, Israel Can Take Refuge in Talks' Structure

Article excerpt

FOR a man who has succeeded in shaping this week's Middle East peace conference almost exactly to his liking, Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir is going to the talks with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

His aides say they fear that Israel's major foe, Syria, is not prepared to offer a full peace treaty even if Israel were to make concessions on the disputed Golan Heights. They also worry that the Jewish state will come under heavy international pressure to withdraw from the occupied territories, a step Mr. Shamir has vowed never to take.

But the Israelis have ensured themselves considerable protection in the structure of the peace talks. The upcoming negotiations are "the culmination of our diplomatic efforts and political initiative of 1989," one senior Israeli official claimed last week.

During the eight months of US Secretary of State James Baker III's efforts to convene the talks, the Israelis have managed to fight off all attempts to convene a full international conference with United Nations participation, as the Arab side always demanded.

Instead, Israel has been guaranteed the direct, bilateral negotiations with its neighbors that it insisted on, and that imply recognition by the Arabs of the Jewish state's existence. It has also won assurances that the opening session in Madrid will be largely ceremonial, with no power to reconvene, vote, or impose solutions on the parties. The talks will also follow the "twin track" approach to solving Israel's disputes with the Palestinians and with the Arab states in parallel, as Israel proposed in 1989.

On an official level, Israel has also prevailed in its refusal to sit down at the table with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). None of the Palestinian delegates in the conference room will be formally linked to the PLO.

The pretense that the PLO is not involved in the conference is wearing increasingly thin, however. PLO headquarters in Tunis chose the Palestinian delegation, and a number of leading Palestinians unacceptable to Israel have been invited to the talks as "advisers" who will be allowed into the conference center, if not the negotiating room itself.

The Palestinians are likely to pose the first dilemma for the Israeli delegation by demanding a freeze on Jewish settlements in the occupied territories for the duration of the peace talks. …

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