WASHINGTON — Secretary of State James A. Baker III, hoping to break a stalemate in the Israeli Cabinet, has proposed a five-step procedure to revive the moribund plan for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The procedure would culminate with a U.S.-Egypt-Israel meeting of foreign ministers.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Baker's initiative is intended only to support the election proposal originally made by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. It is not the "American plan" that some Israeli politicians, including key allies of Shamir, have requested to break the impasse, she said.
Baker outlined his proposals in telephone conversations with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmet Abdel-Meguid and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens. The discussion came after the Israeli Inner Cabinet rejected, on a 6-6 tie vote, a motion backed by the Labor Party to begin Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over election procedures.
Officials in both Jerusalem and Cairo said Baker invited Meguid and Arens to Washington for three-sided talks. However, Tutwiler said that Baker envisioned a foreign ministers' meeting only as the final step in a process.
"You have to first . . . have agreement on the points that come before point five," Tutwiler said. "And that yet is not done. And they're still all working on it."
Tutwiler refused to reveal the first four points, although a senior official said later that they were very brief, covering less than three quarters of a type-written page.
"His points are trying to constitute a framework for setting up a dialogue and getting it under way," Tutwiler said. "The secretary is working with the government of Israel and the government of Egypt, trying to produce a framework that would meet Israel's and Egypt's basic concerns about beginning a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians."
Last May, Shamir proposed elections among Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to pick delegates to negotiate with Israel over terms for limited Palestinian self-rule in the territories that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. However,the proposal has come to nothing so far because Israel and the Palestinians have never agreed on conditions for the elections.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attempted to break the deadlock last month by issuing his own 10-point "clarification" of the Shamir plan. Mubarak claimed that the Palestinians were ready to begin talks if Israel accepted the 10 points. The centrist Labor Party advocated acceptance of the Mubarak plan, but Shamir's rightist Likud balked.
Baker endorsed the Egyptian proposal, even suggesting that last week's Israeli Inner Cabinet meeting was a test of whether "the Israeli government is as firmly committed to that (Shamir) plan as it was in the past."
However, Tutwiler scoffed at suggestions that the Inner Cabinet's rejection of the Egyptian approach was a defeat for U.S. policy. She said that Baker continues to support the Shamir election initiative.
In Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Israel Television that Shamir and Arens are "taking this proposal seriously" but will not automatically accept Baker's ideas or even his invitation for talks in Washington.
In Cairo, Reuters news service quoted Foreign Ministry sources as saying that Egypt will consult with the Palestine Liberation Organization before formulating its response to a U.S. invitation for Baker-Meguid-Arens talks.