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Israel calling for stronger Arab response


JERUSALEM -- Impatient for progress in the Middle East peace negotiations, Israel's new government yesterday urged the country's Arab neighbors to respond "more substantively" to Jerusalem's latest proposals, reiterating its readiness to move ahead quickly in those talks.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose center-left government won election in June with a pledge to pursue a "land-for-peace" resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, voiced dismay that Arab negotiators had responded so cautiously to what Jerusalem pTC regarded as significant changes in its position.

Reporting on the talks, which resumed in Washington last Monday, Mr. Rabin told the Israeli Cabinet at its weekly meeting yesterday that perhaps the three Arab delegations, representing Syria, Lebanon and Jordan together with the Palestinians, lacked the authority to reply concretely and had thus lapsed into "tired old slogans."

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, speaking later with reporters, was more blunt: The Arab delegations should "stop complaining and come up with counter-proposals."

And Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the Arabs could lose the momentum that Mr. Rabin's election victory gave the negotiations if they fail to focus on the key issues and move ahead quickly.

"The reality is they waste time on questions we view as unimportant while Israel started the process with [goodwill] gestures and is ready to immediately get into substance," Mr. Ben-Eliezer said after the meeting.

Although the latest round of talks began only a week ago and officials here had stressed their "modest expectations" when Jerusalem's delegation set out for Washington, Israel appears to have hoped for a faster and more positive response from the Arab delegations, almost as a vote of confidence in the Rabin government.

Mr. Rabin's new government had changed the tone but not the content of Israel's positions, Palestinian delegates said at the end of the week.

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