Visit brings dilemma for Rabin

JERUSALEM - Israel's Prime Minister was under pressure last night to give ground over the deportee stalemate, as Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, arrived to tell Yitzhak Rabin that new 'gestures' were needed, writes Sarah Helm.

Precisely what gestures Mr Christopher seeks remain unclear. But the Palestinian delegation, which is to meet Mr Christopher in Jerusalem, will make its demands clear: to return to the peace talks, the Palestinians want a commitment from Mr Rabin not to carry out a mass deportation again. The principle of mass exile must be struck from Israeli law, they will say.

This demand shows flexibility, and stops short of their earlier insistence on the return of each deportee before the peace talks resume. But it presents Mr Rabin with a dilemma. Ten days ago, Mr Rabin insisted on the right to carry out future mass deportations if necessary. 'The principle of our ability to remove for a limited time hundreds of inciters, leaders, organisers, remains,' he told MPs, in response to right-wing opposition criticism that his offer to allow 101 deportees to return meant a surrender to 'terrorists'.

Another climbdown might be seen as weakness, encouraging Arab extremists to further violence. But if he does not make some concession, the peace talks look certain to remain stymied.

Although Mr Christopher has been keen to lower expectations of his visit to Israel, the prime objective is to agree a date for the next round of talks. Mr Christopher will also try to obtain from Mr Rabin commitments on human rights demands, to be presented to him by the Palestinian delegation. The Rabin government has prepared a list of possible human rights concessions.

Should Mr Christopher leave Jerusalem without agreement from the Palestinians to return to the talks, the other Arab partners will be presented with the decision as to whether to go alone. Differences of opinion between Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) have appeared in recent days over whether resumption of talks should be directly connected to finding a solution to the deportee affair. Syria has taken a more conciliatory line on this than the PLO.

There are fears in Jerusalem that if the US entourage receives the impression that the sides in the Palestinian conflict are not serious about achieving progress on this front, Mr Christopher may recommend that the US relax its efforts in the peace process.

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