Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Views US Diplomacy as Key to Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Views US Diplomacy as Key to Talks

Article excerpt

WITH the Mideast peace talks expected to resume at the end of the month, Israel appears more interested in encouraging US shuttle diplomacy in the region than in sending its delegation back to Washington, some Israeli officials indicate.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher's intervention in last month's crisis between Israel and Syrian-backed guerrillas in southern Lebanon gave a boost to the Israel-Syria track in the peace talks, aides to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin say.

But tensions persist, underscoring the need for more such US diplomacy, they say. The pro-Iranian Hizbullah (Party of God), which has long vowed to sabotage the peace process, killed eight Israeli soldiers and wounded four others yesterday in Israel's self-proclaimed security zone in southern Lebanon.

The attack was the most lethal against Israeli troops there since 1988, but it did not appear to violate tacit agreements brokered last month by Mr. Christopher among Mr. Rabin, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. It showed that the pro-Iranian Hizbullah was still able to strike at patrols, and that Syria apparently is in no hurry to reduce pressure on Israeli forces inside Lebanese territory.

Israeli officials express hope that talks scheduled to begin on Aug. 31 will serve as a prelude for further efforts by Christopher in the region, particularly on the Israeli-Syria track.

The Rabin government's advocacy of increased US shuttle diplomacy apparently stems from simple calculation. With the US deeply involved, Syria and the other Arab negotiating partners - Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinians - will have to take into account their vital relations with Washington when they consider peace with Israel.

Since the process began in Madrid in 1991, Syria has made no discernable gestures toward Israel's demand that it specify the nature of peace arrangements before land transfers are discussed.

Israel wants Damascus to specify first whether it intends a full peace, including exchange of ambassadors. Referring to Syria's demand that Israel say whether it intends to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights, annexed in the 1967 war, deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin said "the chicken and the egg problem should be solved by the Americans."

Rabin said this week he believed opportunities for breaking the impasse were increasing.

"I cannot prove it, I only hear it from the Americans who serve as a go-between because the face-to-face negotiations with the delegation are on too low a level to reach a conclusion." He said further "deep involvement" by Washington was a prerequisite for progress.

"It was not a coincidence that the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state was not signed in the Middle East but on the lawn of the White House," Rabin said, referring to the 1979 treaty signed by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. …

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