Israel bows to U.S. on deportees 100 Palestinians to be allowed to return home

February 02, 1993|By Doug Struck 2/3 2/3 TC | Doug Struck 2/3 2/3 TC,Jerusalem Bureau Mark Matthews of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

JERUSALEM -- Israel, bowing to pressure from Washington in its first contest with the Clinton administration, offered yesterday to bring back 100 of 400 Palestinians deported to southern Lebanon and to return the rest within a year.

The first crack in the six-week stalemate over the deportations was the result of a deal struck with the United States in which the Clinton administration has promised to veto any United Nations sanctions against Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said.

Palestinians said they are likely to reject the offer. Palestinian spokesmen said the deportees will not accept anything less than the return of all the men, as demanded by the U.N. resolution branding the deportations a violation of the Geneva Convention.

But Prime Minister Rabin, who won approval of the decision at a Cabinet meeting last night, said he did not care about the Palestinian threat. "That's their problem," he said. "We have done our part."

He said as part of a "package deal" struck with Washington, the United States has agreed not to pressure Israel to make further concessions.

The United States quickly threw its weight and clout at the United Nations behind the Israeli decision, signaling a closer relationship with the Jewish state under President Clinton than existed during the Bush administration.

"President Clinton and I are pleased to announce that based upon intensive efforts and consultations over the last several days, there's been a breakthrough in our efforts with respect to the deportation issue," Secretary of State Warren Christopher said at the United Nations, presenting the United States as a virtual co-sponsor of the compromise.

Mr. Christopher said the Israeli move was consistent with Security Council Resolution 799, which demanded that Israel "ensure the safe and immediate return to the occupied territories of all those deported."

He refused to say flatly that the United States would veto sanctions, but he did say that the Israeli announcement "should be convincing to the Security Council that it's unnecessary to have a resolution."

The uproar over the Israeli deportation presented the United States with a no-win situation, forcing a choice between having to exercise its veto power, with serious consequences both for U.N. collective action and relations with the Arab world, or allowing unprecedented sanctions against its closest Middle East ally.

Yesterday's announcement followed several days of heavy U.S.-Israeli consultations, including at least one direct phone call between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Mr. Christopher and repeated contacts through ambassadors.

Israel deported 415 Palestinians on Dec. 17 to a barren hillside in southern Lebanon. It said the men are ringleaders and activists of fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for the recent killings of Israelis.

Lebanon refused to let the men pass further into the country. Two days later, the U.N. Security Council condemned the deportations in a unanimous vote with U.S. support.

Mr. Rabin said last night that Israel would select 100 of the "lowest level" of the Hamas activists among the deportees, and "if they agree" would return them "within two to four days." Officials would not say whether those returned would be released or imprisoned in Israel.

The term of deportation of the remaining deportees would be cut half, Mr. Rabin said. Most of them were ordered out of the country for two years.

The prime minister said the United States would work to find a third country that would accept the deportees for a year. But Mr. Christopher said "that particular alternative is no longer before us."

Arab countries, including Egypt, had resisted the idea, both to maintain pressure on Israel and to avoid exacerbating their own problems with radical Islamists.

In any event, Israel has said it now will permit supplies to reach the rough camp of the deportees.

He said he took the decision in order to keep the Middle East peace talks going. The Palestinian delegation has said it will quit the talks unless the deportees are returned. And Hanan Ashrawi, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, said last night the Israeli move was not enough.

"If this is a deal with the United States, it is obviously in violation of its own vote" for U.N. Resolution 799 demanding the immediate return of all the deportees, she said.

A leader of the deportees in southern Lebanon told the Associated Press earlier in the day the group would reject partial repatriation.

"We appeal to the Security Council to apply sanctions against Israel and urge the United States not to veto the sanctions," said Abdul-Aziz Rantisi.

Despite the agreement with the United States, Mr. Rabin predicted the American dexcription of the agreement would differ from his.

"The U.S. can talk about this being the beginning of a long process of implementing 799. By no means this is the way I see it," Mr. Rabin said.

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