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Arens Under Fire for Suggesting a Six-month Freeze on Settlements

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Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S.,Moshe Arens, came under heavy fire in the Cabinet today for allegedly having suggested to Premier Menachem Begin that Israel suspend the establishment of new settlements on the West Bank for a six-month period.

According to a Voice of Israel Radio report today, Arens made that proposal about six weeks ago. He said Israel should announce suspension of further settlements for six months and that Begin should invite King Hussein of Jordan to the negotiating table. The radio report said Arens suggested that such moves would improve relations between Israel and the U.S.

According to the report, Begin responded brief saying that Hussein would never agree to talks with Israel and Israel would end up committed to the suspension of settlements.

(The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington bureau chief, David Friedman, reported last Friday that Foreign Minister Marwin al-Kassim of Jordan met with Secretary of State George Shultz The Jordanian official told reporters afterwards that Jordan finds “positive” elements in President Reagan’s September I peace initiative but that the Palestinians have to represent themselves in any negotiations involving their future.

(He noted, in reply to a question, that the Palestine Liberation Organization speaks for the Palestinians. The State Department refused to indicate whether al-Kassim’s meeting with Shultz had moved forward the Administration’s effort to have Jordan represent the Palestinians in the autonomy negotiations.)

CABINET HARDLINERS INFURIATED

Arens reported proposals appear to be in line with Reagan’s initiative. The President urged Israel to freeze settlement activity in the occupied territories and spoke in favor of their eventual status as a Palestinian homeland in association with Jordan. Israel flatly rejected the Reagan plan as a basis for negotiations.

Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor said today that Israel’s settlement policy is continuing as usual, including the establishment of new settlements on the West Bank. But Arens’ reported remarks infuriated Cabinet hardliners. Minister of Science. Yuval Neeman, leader of the ultranationalist Tehiya party, said it was the job of an ambassador to report to his government the political atmosphere in the country where he is posted, not to make policy recommendations to the government.

Tehiya MK Geula Cohen said today that if the report is true, Arens should be recalled from Washington and dismissed from his post. Benny Shallta, a hawkish Likud MK, expressed “great surprise ” because he thought Arens wasn’t one who “scared easily.”

Arens, who was chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee before he was named Ambassador to the U.S. last year, was well known as a Herut hardliner who opposed any compromise over the West Bank and also opposed the return of Sinai to Egypt and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

LABOR URGES POLICY CHANGE

The opposition Labor Party issued a statement today urging a drastic change of policy in the territories lest the great sacrifices made for peace with Egypt be in vain. Arens’ proposals may be a first sign that the government is sobering up, even though they were rejected outright, the Labor statement said.

The Shinui Party proposed a debate on the subject in the Knesset. Mapam MK Imri Ron said Arens now understands that Israel must take advantage of the growing moderation in the Arab world.

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