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Palestinians Agree to Resume Talks With Israel : Mideast: They'll join other Arab delegations in Washington next week. Deportees see a 'sellout.'


NICOSIA, Cyprus — In a major breakthrough, Arab foreign ministers ended a marathon week of diplomacy Wednesday with an announcement that they and the Palestinians have agreed unanimously to return to the bargaining table with Israel next Tuesday in Washington.

"In the light of U.S. assurances and guarantees, the Arab delegations participating in the peace process will go to the next round of talks, after it has been postponed until April 27," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh said in Damascus.

Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, seeking to underscore a message of Arab unity, personally attended a press conference after the final session of a week of meetings in Damascus and Cairo, declaring to reporters: "The Palestinian delegation will go side-by-side with their Arab brothers."

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher had invited the parties to resume the talks this week, but they were thrown into doubt last December when Israel expelled 415 suspected Islamic militants from the occupied territories. The Palestinians declared that they would boycott the talks until the deportees were allowed back.

Arafat's announcement, coupled with a joint statement from the foreign ministers of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, ended a week of speculation that Israel's neighbors, eager to restart stalled peace talks that could win them back lands occupied by Israel, might have attended the U.S.-sponsored negotiations without the Palestinians.

The deportees' spokesman, Abdulaziz Rantisi, called the Arab decision to return to the talks a "cheap sellout."

"We all feel our cause and that of the entire Palestinian people have been sold for a handful of dollars," he said from the tent city on a southern Lebanon hillside where the deportees have been living since Dec. 17.

In Washington, Christopher praised the Palestinians for their "courageous" decision to resume negotiations.

"We realize that the decision to rejoin the talks was a difficult one for them to make," Christopher said. But he added that there is no other way for the Palestinians to achieve their objectives.

"Negotiations can give the Palestinians the prospect that the very difficult conditions under which they now live in the territories can be brought to an end," he said. "Through negotiations, they can see occupation give way to self-government."

Once the talks reconvene next week, Christopher said, the United States hopes that the negotiations will run continuously until they produce results, instead of following the previous pattern of a week or two of meetings followed by a month or more of recess.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin welcomed the Arab decision. Immediately dispatching his country's negotiators to Washington, he said he hoped that the Arabs understood that continuation of the negotiations, and the consequent possibility for resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, "is a unique opportunity and must not be ignored."

"But along with this," he continued, "it is incumbent upon us to know that, for us Israelis, peace without security has no meaning."

In the first of a series of expected Israeli moves meant to promote the negotiations, Rabin also said his government would accelerate the return of the deportees, and he declared that Israel plans no further deportations.

The Palestinians had sought both the return of the deportees, 396 of whom remain, and an Israeli pledge to end the practice of exiling opponents of its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But they received much less on this critical issue.

Rabin said 101 of the deportees could return immediately, as Israel had said in February, and that a review of the others' cases "may result in granting permission for an early return of some additional deportees."

But while saying that "the Israeli government has no plans to resort to further deportations," he reserved his country's right to "retain its inherent power to take all necessary lawful steps to protect its people."

In this, Rabin stopped far short of the categorical declaration the Palestinians had sought. Nor did he give any assurance that all the Hamas Muslim fundamentalists would be home by midsummer, as the Palestinians had demanded. He also called on the Palestinians to "make a good-faith effort to maintain calm and avoid violence against Israel."

Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian delegation's spokeswoman, welcomed Rabin's statement on deportations but said Israel will be judged by its actions.

"Let them start bringing back the deportees, both those of last December and those from the past 25 years, in sizable numbers, and then we will see if there is a change," she said.

Ashrawi said the Palestinians had hoped--"on the basis of very specific American assurances"--for a stronger declaration affirming Israel's intention to honor human rights in the occupied territories, including specific steps it would take.

"What we got was yet another reiteration of Israel's perceived security needs," she said.

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