Though the Soviet Union officially denied it, the report suggested that Moscow might be ready to try a new approach in the Middle East. According to Israeli state radio, the Soviets last week offered to renew diplomatic ties with Israel, which Moscow broke in 1967 during the Six-Day War, and to allow increased emigration of the Soviet Union's estimated 2.5 million Jews. Moscow's asking price: an Israeli-Syrian agreement on the Golan Heights, part of which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 war and formally annexed in 1981.
The offer was reportedly made in Paris by Yuli Vorontsov, the Soviet Ambassador to France, to his Israeli counterpart, Ovadia Sofer. According to Israeli radio, Vorontsov called the breaking of relations a serious mistake and "an emotional reaction" that the Soviet Union has come to regret. In Washington, Administration officials welcomed the Soviet proposal, even though the U.S. remains opposed to a greater Soviet role in the region.
Meanwhile, Jordanian King Hussein's proposal for bringing about a negotiated settlement in the Middle East received some encouragement last week when Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, finally came up with a list of Palestinians acceptable to the P.L.O. who could serve on a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team. The group would meet first with U.S. diplomats to pave the way for direct negotiations with Israel. Although Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has said he would welcome direct negotiations with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, he is not prepared to talk with Palestinians who have links to the P.L.O. Hussein sent the list to the State Department, which then showed it to the Israelis, who quickly rejected it. The Israelis complained that only two of the names were from the 1.2 million Palestinian community in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Of the seven Palestinians on the list, five are members of the Palestine National Council, the P.L.O.'s de facto parliament. At least two of these are also members of Al Fatah, the largest group within the P.L.O. Even though the three other Palestinians were not directly connected with the P.L.O., Peres described the list as "a bad opening move."
The Reagan Administration realized that both sides were jockeying for position, but reacted with a touch of pique over the Israeli veto of the list. Said a State Department spokesman: "Our decision will be taken in light of consultations with our friends in the area, but it will be our decision." Besides, maintained U.S. diplomats, any Palestinians who would take part in the first round of negotiations with the U.S. would not necessarily be the ones who would meet face to face with the Israelis later on.