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Briefing Paper : War of Words in Mideast Talks


The Background:

Nearly two years of negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors have not yet brought peace, but they are adding new terms and new meanings to old terms in the already complex lexicon of Middle East conflict.

The negotiations themselves are the core of the "peace process," and they focus on the differences between "withdrawal from" and "withdrawal on" the Golan Heights, the nuances of "early empowerment" and the evolution of "Gaza first" into "Gaza plus."

"We are almost inventing a whole new language in efforts to communicate across the table," said Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks and a professor of English literature. "But there are also efforts to use language to compel the other side to accept a position, to open options and to foreclose them.

"Many of the terms, in fact, distill agreements, or disagreements, and thus constitute a sort of shorthand or code. But other terms are still evolving, and their meanings are the very subjects of the negotiations."

Some of the terms:

Peace Process:

Uncertain initially that they wanted to be in full-fledged negotiations with each other, and what the political implications of that might be, Israel and the Arabs settled on the vaguer term peace process.

Now it has grown to mean the face-to-face bilateral talks in Washington, the wide-ranging multilateral, regional discussions in various world capitals, U.S. mediation efforts and other contacts quietly taking place through unannounced meetings and intermediaries.

Madrid Formula:

In bringing the Arabs and the Israelis together in the Spanish capital of Madrid in October, 1991, then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III worked out a complex, interlocking set of understandings on the basis and the goals of the negotiations.

Both Israel and the Palestinians are complaining that some elements of the Madrid formula are too constricting. The Palestinians, for example, want the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate directly in the negotiations. But the United States is warning that the Madrid framework took a long time to work out, and to discard or modify it substantially could put peace at risk.

Territory for Peace:

When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took office a year ago, he renewed Israel's commitment to exchange territory it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War for peace with its neighbors. But talks are continuing on whether that will be all of the territory--including East Jerusalem, Israeli settlements established on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the full Golan Heights. Territorial compromise, the phrase used by Israel, is deliberately ambiguous.

Golan Heights:

Syria is demanding Israel's complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in 1967, as the basis for peace.

Israel so far is offering only a pullback of its forces--that is, a withdrawal on the Golan Heights--with the extent dependent on the character of the peace that Syria offers, demilitarization of the area and other security measures.

Defining Peace:

Syrian President Hafez Assad has said that for the complete return of the Golan Heights, there will be full peace between his country and Israel. Jerusalem is seeking a definition of what that means--whether it includes not just an end to the 45-year-old state of war but also diplomatic relations, the exchange of ambassadors, open borders, trade and tourism. Israel is disappointed that, 15 years after a peace agreement, its relations with Egypt are still what it calls a cold peace.

Declaration of Principles:

A Declaration of Principles--already abbreviated by diplomats to DOP--is now the focus of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and is meant to lay the foundation for a Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority, dubbed the PISGA, in the territories. U.S. mediators have drawn up two drafts, which Israel accepted but the Palestinians rejected, largely over the lack of territorial jurisdiction.

Israel is also discussing a joint statement with Syria and is near completion on one with Jordan; when agreed, they will lay the basis for negotiations on actual peace treaties.

Territorial Jurisdiction:

What area will the PISGA administer? All of the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Those areas--except for the Israeli settlements? Does the West Bank include East Jerusalem?

Palestinians want to know what territory will be theirs. Israel, wanting to protect its settlers, to adjust the borders of the future Palestine and to retain all of Jerusalem, is refusing to define the territory; instead it proposes that the Palestinian government administer Palestinian affairs, Israel administer the settlements and remaining army units and a joint authority administer what is shared.


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