After arousing much controversy early last summer with their first Middle East peace initiative, the West Europeans are getting ready to roll out a second one.
This time the nine members of the European Community (EC) intend to spell out in detail what they laid out in general terms in their June proposal.
Then, at the end of their June summit in Venice, the Nine broke ranks with the United States by issuing a call for full self- determination for the Palestinian people. They also spelled out for the first time in official EC language that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) "will have to be associated with the [Middle East peace] negotiations."
This European stance prompted a muted reaction from the Arabs -- and an angry blast from the Israelis, who accused the Europeans of appeasement to oil power.
At a meeting of the European Council in Luxembourg this coming Dec. 1, according to high-ranking Western diplomats, the Nine hope to come up with a new declaration giving con crete form to the June initiative's general principles. The main points this second proposal is expected to cover are:
1. Israel's security. This would be assured by a peace treaty that would recognize Israel's borders. Israel's neighbors would have to sign the treaty and it would be guaranteed by a number of countries, including the superpowers who have an interest in the area. It would also be formally guaranteed by the United Nations.
2. The Palestinians' right to self-determination. Various alternatives would be envisaged: As a result of an internationally supervised election, the Palestinians could choose among real autonomy within Israel, becoming a Palestinian province within a federated Jordanian state, or forming a Palestinian state.
3. Withdrawal by Israel from Arab territories, according to approved UN resolutions (242 and 338). Several options will be proposed as to an acceptable time frame for the withdrawal and for the possible stationing of UN forces in certain areas for a certain period of time (presumably in the Golan Heights, along the Jordan River, etc.). The declaration will also attempt to define which territories ought to be returned to which Arab countries, in how many phases, months, or years.
This new European declaration, according to plan, would then be presented to the Arabs at a Arab-European summit sometime next spring and, the Europeans hope , receive the Arabs' endorsement. Meanwhile, European contact groups are supposed to refine these proposals, constantly sounding out the Arabs and Israelis and trying to find common ground while avoiding the introduction of ideas that would be utterly unacceptable to the concerned parties.
Basically, according to one European official of Cabinet rank, the West Europeans want to break the vicious circle by which Israel refuses to talk to the PLO (because of the PLO's continued hostility to Israel and its refusal to recognize Israel) and the PLO refuses to recognize Israel (because Israel refuses to recognize it).
"This obstacle can be surmounted if, as a result of mediation efforts, both sides agree on a modus vivendi and if they then recognize each other simultaneously," the senior European official asserts.
Several high-ranking West Europeans admit that they alone don't have enough clout to bring about a solution of the problem. But, they also believe that, as one of them put it, "in the long run the US cannot ignore our interests in the region and our analysis of the situation."
They see their role, therefore, as one of exerting a growing pressure on the US to face up to its responsibilities and use its influence in a bolder and more imaginative way toward achieving a solution of the Palestinian problem.
Officially, American reactions are expected to be cool to the European move. But, according to some officials, the US would not be unhappy to be dragged by the Europeans beyond Camp David. The projected European declaration does not mention Camp David and is not aimed at hurting the Camp David process.
"It can be truly said that the US has been derelict and to some degree irresponsible in not acting more forcefully on this issue," comments one key European official. "The lack of progress on the Palestinian question has paralyzed the Arab countries with regard to afghanistan."
The European initiative may have in the short run at least one advantage. It may defuse a new round of vitriolic anti-America speeches at the UN General Assembly. Both the Special Assembly on the Palestinian rights and the Security Council last July gave Israel until Nov. 15 to withdraw from all Arab territories. A verbal and diplomatic offensive by the Arabs was generally expected to take place on Nov. 15 or soon after.