Reviving Israel's Peace Plan
Egypt tries to mediate while the US weighs giving Arafat a visa. MIDDLE EAST
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Since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not impinge significantly on US strategic interests in the region, these advisers are said to caution, the only prudent course is to play it safe by refusing a visa, easing up on the PLO dialogue, and adopting a lower profile in the region.Skip to next paragraph
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A second group of advisers, primarily made up of experienced Middle East experts in the department, is said to argue that refusing a visa would weaken the US role as honest broker in the region, thus diminishing prospects for a diplomatic settlement.
Following the Reagan administration's refusal to grant a visa to Arafat last year, the General Assembly pulled an end run by convening a special session in Geneva to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was at Geneva that Arafat made the two concessions - recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism - that opened the way for the start of the US-PLO dialogue.
These advisers say that by granting a visa this year the US could open the door to further diplomatic gains. They argue that the PLO chairman is now open to the concept of a delegation to enter into pre-election negotiations with Israel. By granting a visa, the US could enable Arafat to take such a step in the face of opposition within the PLO. The US should also press for the inclusion of diaspora Palestinians in such a delegation and encourage Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who has backed the idea with qualifications, to convince Shamir to go along, they say.
Since Arafat is under increasing pressure from extremists within his own ranks, these advisors warn, the opportunity for constructive US action could be lost within months.
``People with experience in Middle East affairs believe that now is the time to strike,'' summarizes one Western diplomatic source. ``People more sensitive to domestic political concerns are advising caution.''
``If Arafat gets the visa it will be a signal that the activists have the upper hand,'' adds the source.
Even if the US adopts the more activist position, other factors will make it difficult to breathe new life into the Israeli plan.
One is that Shamir is now said to be more convinced than ever that he has the luxury of outwaiting the Palestinians, whose 21-month intifadah or uprising, which helped prompt the Israeli initiative in the first place, is seen by some Israelis as faltering.
Another factor is continuing Palestinian distrust of the motives behind the Israeli plan, described by one Gaza Arab last week as ``only a ploy by Israel to quell the intifadah and drive a wedge between Palestinians inside and outside the territories.''
West Bank and Gaza sources also challenge the Israeli view that local Palestinians are ready to break ranks with the PLO if the PLO fails to give the green light to participate in elections.
While it was pressure from the territories that prompted Arafat to make concessions in Geneva last year, these sources acknowledge, the roles have now been largely reversed. What Arafat is now hearing from the street activists is that he should hold the line on further concessions until and unless Israel reciprocates.
To get to elections, Arafat will have to be persuaded that the PLO will not be excluded from talks on the final status of the territories, analysts agree.
``If the PLO can be convinced that an interim settlement won't be permanent and that it might have a role to play in the next stage - without defining the end of the process as an independent state - then we may yet have a peace process,'' concludes Hebrew University Middle East expert Eytan Gilboa. ``It's difficult, but not impossible.''