JERUSALEM (May. 12)
Premier Shimon Peres told the Cabinet today that there was “broad agreement” between Israel and the United States on reviving the Middle East peace process and that Secretary of State George Shultz recognized Israel’s position that it is now up to the Arabs to decide on the future of the process.
Peres briefed the Cabinet only hours after his final breakfast meeting with Shultz at the Prime Minister’s home. The Secretary of State flew to Cairo this morning to confer with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. This evening he will fly to the Jordanian port city of Aqaba for dinner with King Hussein.
Israeli officials expect that he will send his top Middle East aide, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, back to Jerusalem tomorrow to brief them on his talks with the two Arab leaders.
Shultz’s political — and economic — talks with Israeli leaders were an addenda to the primary purpose of his visit, which was to take part in Israel’s observance of the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. (See separate story.)
But in the political talks, which Shultz held with Peres and Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the status of the long stalled peace process was reviewed and brought up to date.
THREE MAIN OBSTACLES
Shultz and the Israelis are in agreement that the Arabs must put together a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation before any new round of negotiations can begin. Peres told the Cabinet that no list of delegates had been presented to him by Shultz.
The outstanding problem, one which is not expected to be resolved quickly, is the composition of the joint delegation. Its members must be acceptable to Israel and — as Shultz pointed out to American reporters later aboard his plane bound for Cairo — also acceptable to the Palestinians.
According to Peres, the composition of the delegation was one of the three main obstacles listed by Shultz to the resumption of the peace process. The others were: the demand by the Arab side that initial talks be held by the delegation with Reagan Administration officials in Washington, before Israel is brought into the picture; and Jordan’s demand that the process be conducted within the framework of an international peace conference that would include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Israel has the strongest reservations against both of those demands. Peres and Shamir were categorical in their rejection of an international peace conference as the forum for negotiating with the Arabs and their position was made clear in the official Cabinet communique issued after today’s session.
But the most serious immediate problem which could have repercussions for the Labor-Likud unity coalition government, is the nature of the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Shultz said, according to Peres’ report to the Cabinet, that in appraising the delegation, Israel must look at “persons”, not “categories.”
This appeared to be an oblique reference to whether members of the Palestine National Council (PNC) would be acceptable. The State Department seemed to indicate last week that they would be acceptable to the U.S. provided they were not members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But the PNC is widely seen as the PLO’s “parliament-in-exile” and as far as Israel is concerned is undifferentiated from the PLO.
Foreign Minister Shamir, the Likud leader, took a categorically negative position with respect to the PNC at his meeting with Shultz on Friday. At a subsequent question-and-answer session with reporters he flatly ruled out PNC members as possible negotiating partners. Peres was more equivocal on the subject.
ISRAEL’S POSITION EXPLAINED
He told the Cabinet today that Israel’s position is that “We will reject anyone who belongs to an organization which is committed to the Palestinian Covenant.” The Covenant, drawn up by the PLO in the 1960s and subsequently amended, denies Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state and pledges the PLO to an armed struggle to eradicate it. The document was adopted by the PNC and re-affirmed at successive PNC assemblies.
Peres appears reluctant to take a clear-cut position on the issue as long as the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation remains hypothetical. It is unclear, for example, whether the PNC is an “organization” within the meaning of the Premier’s statement; or if a person who was a member at its last session can be described as “belonging to” the PNC, inasmuch as delegates are freshly elected for each session.
The statements by Peres and Shamir reflect the fundamental political and ideological differences between the Labor and Likud leaders and the divisions between the two major components of the unity government. Should the matter come to a head, the government might not survive.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ronnie Milo, a Likud MK, said Friday that if a proposal evolved for Israeli talks with a delegation that included members of the PNC, the government inevitably would fall.
ISRAEL’S TROUBLED ECONOMY DISCUSSED
Shultz devoted an important part of his two-day visit to discussions of Israel’s severely troubled economy. On Saturday night he dined with Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai at the home of the U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis and he also discussed economics in depth with Peres.
The latter told the Cabinet today that Shultz stated explicitly that American supplemental economic aid to Israel “would not be linked to any conditions, political or economic.” Peres added, however, that Shultz made it clear that the U.S. expects Israel to “take the necessary measures” to cure its economy.
The Cabinet, in fact, demonstrated its determination and resolve to attack painful economic problems by devoting nearly two hours today for discussion of how to levy the education tax, decided upon several months ago but still not implemented.
Peres also disclosed that in his talks with Shultz he had suggested that the Secretary of State take up with Soviet leaders the idea of direct flights from Moscow to Tel Aviv for Soviet-Jewish emigres. He said he raised the question of Jewish activists imprisoned in the Soviet Union. Shultz met here briefly with Avital Shcharansky, wife of Anatoly Shcharansky, and Ilana Friedman, sister of Ida Nudel.