WASHINGTON -- The United States accused Palestinians yesterday of being more interested in media posturing than negotiations and warned Arabs not to try to manipulate the peace process to affect Israeli elections.
A senior U.S. official, voicing impatience with the unproductive latest round of peace talks, said the time had come for all the parties to move beyond "maximalist" opening positions and search for commonground. But he singled out the Palestinians for especially harsh criticism, saying they "need to do more negotiating than posturing."
He said Israeli and Palestinian proposals for interim self-government in the Israeli-occupied territories were so far apart that it was difficult to contemplate bridging them.
The Palestinian plan was particularly unproductive, aimed more at putting its goals on the record and appeasing constituents than moving the talks forward, he suggested.
The official also spoke favorably of Israel's decision to bring experts to talk to the Palestinians about various areas of self-government.
And he warned against attempting to affect the June Israeli elections, in which Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir faces a strong challenge from Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin, whose party favors trading land for peace.
"We think that the Arabs need to understand they cannot and must not play Israeli politics," the U.S. official said.
The official's comments, delivered before reporters, were not to be attributed by name, but clearly carried a top-level imprimatur.
They appeared aimed at showing Palestinians that their own progress toward autonomy depended on bilateral negotiations, not on continual U.S. pressure on Israel.
Thus, they served to balance the U.S. demand that Israel freeze housing construction in the occupied territories in return for loan guarantees to help absorb Soviet Jews.
The U.S. hopes to obtain an agreement for interim self-govern
ment by November, a success that could help President Bush's image as a master craftsman of foreign policy.
Chief Palestinian delegate Haidar Abdel Shafi denied the charge of media posturing in place of negotiations.
"It's not true at all," he said at a luncheon sponsored by the Arab-American Institute and the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine. "The record is straight."
Palestinians contend that their self-government proposal conforms both with U.N. resolutions and the basis for the talks spelled out by the United States.
It calls for a central authority that includes an executive and elected legislature to take control of the occupied territories, including land, water and other natural resources, and a phased Israeli military withdrawal. A standing committee that would include the U.N., Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Israel, would oversee its implementation.
The central authority's control would extend to "Jerusalem," according to the plan, making no differentiation between the Arab east side and the west side.
The Israeli plan offers limited self-rule to Palestinians in the occupied territories. It would retain strong Israeli control but delegate to the Palestinians certain "spheres," including education, court supervision, agriculture, commerce, transportation and a local police force.
Dr. Abdel Shafi said that Secretary of State James A. Baker III had told negotiators not to demand a halt to new settlements in the occupied territories as a prelude to working out self-government arrangements.