Old foes swap heated words at peace talks Finally face to face, Israel, Arabs make extreme demands MIDDLE EAST PEACE CONFERENCE

November 01, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

MADRID, Spain -- With each having its own version of reality, Israel and its Arab neighbors turned the Middle East peace conference yesterday into a forum for stern lectures about past wrongs and competing claims of righteousness.

Yesterday was the first opportunity for the belligerents to speak directly to each other, and the opportunity was used by representatives of Israel and its adversaries to make demands none of the parties could seriously expect the others to fulfill.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel asked the Arabs not to focus on getting Israel to trade land for a formal peace. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa demanded that Israel give up "every inch" of disputed territory. A spokesman for the Palestinians asserted their intention to create an independent Palestinian state.

All the Arab speakers -- who included representatives of Jordan and Lebanon -- demanded that Israel immediately stop the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, an action that has been rejected by Israel. Everyone called for confidence-building measures, but Israelis and Arabs predictably disagreed about what those measures should be.

They were meeting during the second day of the conference organized by the United States in the most serious attempt in more than a decade to find a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A U.S. official, speaking after Mr. Shamir's speech, showed no surprise at yesterday's harsh exchanges. U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III had expected the Israelis and Arabs to come forward at the outset with "strong maximalist positions," he said.

Yesterday's session was another step toward trying to get the parties to conduct meaningful negotiations face to face.

Mr. Baker was present as moderator, giving each speaker a brief introduction and applauding politely when each had returned to his seat in Madrid's Royal Palace.

Each side spoke of grievances that have been nurtured for decades, and each side suggested a different starting point for negotiations that could last years.

Mr. Shamir asked Arab leaders to begin by acknowledging Israel's legitimacy as a state. "Show us and the world that you accept Israel's existence," he said. "Demonstrate your readiness accept Israel as a permanent entity in the region."

Arab leaders responded by offering formal peace treaties only in exchange for Israel's offering Palestinians the opportunity to establish an independent state, in territory Mr. Shamir's government has vowed never to give up. It is the same territory where the government has sponsored expansion of Jewish settlements.

"Territory-for-peace is a travesty when territory for illegal settlements is official Israeli policy and practice," said Haidar Abdul-Shafi, head of the Palestinian delegation. "Settlements must stop now."

"We are willing to live side by side on the land and the promise of the future," he said. "Set us free to re-engage as neighbors and as equals."

Of all the speakers, only Mr. al-Sharaa of Syria failed to offer at least a pretense of cordiality. He described Israelis as "settler colonialists," accused their government of "inhuman practices" against Arabs and ridiculed Israel's function as a Jewish homeland.

Each side had its own version of past and present, accounts so different that at times the various speakers sounded as if they were from different worlds.

Israelis and Arabs each claimed to have suffered more at the hands of the other. Each claimed to have already made the larger sacrifice for peace. Each insisted it was the turn of the other to compromise. And each accused the other of giving false versions of history.

They also quickly condemned each other's remarks, and as the day went on the language became harsher.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, said that after listening to Mr. Shamir she felt "tremendous dismay." She said his speech reflected Israel's "domination," "racism" and its "patronizing attitude" toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's deputy foreign minister, was no more forgiving about the speeches by Arabs. He said that they were "full of vituperation, slander, condescension and attacks," and that they called for "the dismantling of Israel."

Jordanian Foreign Minister Kamel Abu-Jaber expressed displeasure about the speech by Mr. Shamir but also hinted that the differences might not be unbridgeable. "The Jews are not alien to us," he said at a news conference. "They are our cousins, for God's sake."

In public and private, Israel and the Arab delegations continued to haggle over a site for the next stage of talks. Israel is asking that the bilateral talks, scheduled to begin as early as Sunday, take place in the Middle East -- alternating between Jerusalem and Arab capitals.

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