The Reagan administration, clearly irritated with Israel's rejection of a list of Palestinians suggested for Middle East negotiations, said yesterday that the United States will not give Israel veto power over its next moves in the peace process.
State Department spokesman Robert M. Smalley said the United States will consult with "our friends" in the region before meeting with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian group, but repeatedly emphasized that "it will be our decision."
"The question of a veto over our decisions by one or another of the parties has come up," Smalley said in an apparent reference to Israel's vehement opposition both to such a meeting and to the list of Palestinian participants proposed by Jordan.
"This is not the way we proceed," Smalley said.
The administration also appeared irritated by Israel's publication of the Palestinian names in the Israeli press without any consultation with Washington.
Smalley said progress can be made in the peace process only on the basis of "mutual trust and full confidence," which, he said, requires "consultation" and "a certain amount of discretion."
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres rejected as "unacceptable" the list of Palestinian names passed on from Jordan through the United States and reiterated Israel's opposition to any separate meeting between the United States and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation prior to direct talks with Israel.
Several of the Palestinians on the list are prominent figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), with which Israel refuses to deal. The United States has also pledged not to negotiate with the PLO until it formally recognizes Israel.
In March, President Reagan, in response to pressure from Jordan and Egypt, first declared U.S. willingness to meet with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to help move the peace process forward again. The United States asked Jordan to provide a list of Palestinian participants who are not PLO members.
Since that time, Jordan has pushed hard for such a meeting, hoping it would lead to a dialogue between Washington and the PLO as part of the peace process.
The Israeli position raises the delicate question for U.S. diplomacy of whether to go ahead with the meeting at the risk of jeopardizing the larger Middle East peace process.
Smalley said yesterday that the chief criterion for any U.S. decision on a separate meeting with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation remains whether it would help promote direct Arab-Israeli negotiations.
"If something will help the process, we will do it," he said. "If it will hinder the goal of direct negotiations, that obviously is something we will try to avoid."
A U.S. decision is not expected before Secretary of State George P. Shultz returns from his Asian tour and consults with his top Middle East specialist, Assistant Secretary Richard W. Murphy.
Shultz was scheduled to return last night, as was Murphy, who has been on vacation, and a State Department spokesman said the two will probably discuss the two issues either today or Saturday. One possibility is that the United States will put off a decision and ask Jordan for other names more acceptable to Israel.
State Department officials refused all comment on the six or seven Palestinians whose names surfaced in both the Arab and Jewish press yesterday. There was some confusion whether the list published there was the same one passed on by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Peres Wednesday night, because that list was thought to consist of a larger number.
One department spokesman said that "there is only one list," however, and said it comprised "fewer than 12 names."
The list published by the East Jerusalem Arab newspaper Al Quds, which has close ties to Jordan's King Hussein, and other Israeli newspapers included only six names, which were later confirmed by Israeli authorities:
Khalid Hassan, a leading personality in the umbrella PLO and a top official in Fatah, the main guerrilla faction headed by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. He lives in Tunis and Kuwait.
Tabil Shaat, a member of Fatah's Central Committee and of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO's parliament-in-exile. He lives in Cairo.
Faiz Abu Rahma, head of the lawyers association in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.
Hanna Seniora, editor of Al Fajr, an Arabic daily published in East Jerusalem and regarded as close to Arafat's Fatah group.
Saleh Taamri, a well-known PLO military commander captured by the Israelis during their invasion of southern Lebanon in June 1982. He led the prisoners' committee at the Israeli Ansar Camp in southern Lebanon. He is married to King Hussein's former queen, Dina.
Khatem Husseini, a former PLO representative at the United Nations who currently teaches at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.