Peace talks jeopardized by action on deportees Israeli offer spurs Arab vow of boycott

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Arab rejection of Israel's offer to return only some of the Palestinians deported in December leaves the future of the troubled Middle East peace talks in even greater uncertainty.

Palestinians repeated yesterday their pledge to boycott the peace talks in the face of the deal proposed by Israel and the United States to repatriate 100 of the 400 Palestinians exiled to southern Lebanon and to return the rest in a year.


"As things stand now, we don't see any peace talks going on," said Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian negotiators. "When you see a deal like that, everybody says, 'What's the point?' "

Ms. Ashrawi confirmed that the Palestinians have urged the United States not to issue invitations for the next round of bilateral peace talks.


"We said don't ask questions whose answers you know will be negative," she said.

If the Palestinian delegates quit the 15-month-old peace negotiations, the other Arab negotiators -- from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan -- would be hard-pressed to continue the talks.

That could be the first political casualty of the U.S.-Israeli proposal to solve the issue of the deportees expelled to southern Lebanon Dec. 17. Israel has said they were ringleaders of Islamic terrorist groups responsible for several killings.

The Arab reaction also made it unlikely that any major move to restart the peace process would come before a trip to the region by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, tentatively scheduled for mid-February. U.S. officials said yesterday that invitations to resume peripheral talks on regionwide issues next week had not been issued.

At the United Nations, officials would not rule out a new effort to impose sanctions on Israel, despite broad reluctance to put the United States into the position of casting a veto.

Israel said Monday night that it would return 100 deportees within four days and halve the planned two-year deportation term of the others. In return, the United States promised to veto any sanctions against Israel for violating U.N. resolutions and promised not to press for further concessions, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said.

The agreement was denounced yesterday by the deportees and by Palestinian officials. They urged the U.N. Security Council to demand full implementation of U.N. Resolution 799, which calls for the immediate return of all of the deportees.

The Israeli plan is "categorically rejected," Dr. Abdul-Aziz Rantisi, a spokesman for the deportees, said at their primitive camp.


In Tunis, Tunisia, and Cairo, Egypt, officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization condemned the United States for brokering the offer.

"What kind of solution is that to take 100 and leave 300 behind?" Nabil Shaath, political adviser to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, said in Cairo. "This solution solves nothing."

Other Arab countries criticized the deal with varying enthusiasm. Lebanon and Egypt described the offer as a first step toward compromise, but both called for full implementation of Resolution 799. Syria's ambassador to Egypt, Issa Darwish, said Syria insisted that all of the deportees be brought home.

Syria, despite its history of bitter opposition to Israel, has signaled recently that it wants to conclude a peace agreement to resolve the long-standing issue of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

Lebanon and Jordan, too, have national interests in continuing the talks with Israel. But in a region where public support for Palestinians is a political litmus test for Arab leaders, none is expected to continue the peace talks without the participation of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rabin was criticized by right-wing Israeli politicians for the proposal on the deportees.


The opposition Likud bloc, which was ousted by Mr. Rabin in July, said the decision was "capitulation to terrorist organizations, Arab governments and leftist members in the Cabinet."

"I think it's a great mistake committed by our government," said former Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.