JERUSALEM (Jul. 17)
Premier Shimon Peres and Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir share common ground on Israel’s basic positions toward the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian issue in general, aides to both men said today.
They spoke to reporters after Peres, leader of the Labor Party, and Shamir, the Likud leader, lunched privately in what both later described as a good atmosphere. Labor and Likud are the major components of the national unity coalition government. The two parties diverge on peace process issues, with Likud taking a harder line and Labor tending to greater flexibility.
PERES HOSTS TWO WEST BANK PALESTINIANS
Their luncheon followed a three-hour meeting at Peres’ home last night where the Premier hosted two prominent West Bank Palestinians, Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, a leading moderate, and Hikmat Al-Masri of Nablus. Both are well disposed toward King Hussein and the Hashemite regime of Jordan.
Peres told a meeting of the 10-member Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud ministers) today that the meeting was arranged some time ago and was not linked to the latest developments with respect to a projected U.S. dialogue with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Peres said he had not discussed substantive matters with his guests, but rather sought to elicit their assessment of trends and developments in the administered territories.
Peres discussed his meeting with Shamir over lunch. The Likud leader said afterwards he had no objections. The Prime Minister has a perfect right to meet with whomever he pleases, Shamir said. His aides later elaborated. They said Shamir made his position clear at the luncheon and Peres was satisfied.
They stressed that the government is still firmly united in its refusal to deal with the PLO and its objections to U.S. negotiations with a Jordanian-Palestinian team preliminary to and exclusive of negotiations with Israel. But the aides were careful not to define precisely the areas of agreement between Peres and Shamir, apparently because they would then have to touch on areas of disagreement.
ISSUE OF PEACE TALKS GAINING MOMENTUM
The issue of peace talks is gathering momentum. Reports from Washington this week confirmed that the U.S. has received a list of proposed Palestinian members of a joint delegation to hold a dialogue with the Reagan Administration. None of the names has been made public but there is strong speculation here that either Freij or Al-Masri, or both, are on the list. Officials here said no list has been forwarded from Washington.
Observers noted that the U.S. has finessed its 1975 commitment not to negotiate with the PLO by making a distinction between PLO officials and members of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), some members of which belong to no specific faction of the PLO.
Washington also distinguishes between negotiations–which it insists must be conducted directly with Israel–and dialogue with a Jordanian-Palestinian group that can be held, at least at the outset, without Israel’s participation.
Israel’s position is that any member of the PNC is perforce a member of the PLO. While Peres has avoided explicit rejection of U.S. talks with PNC members, Shamir repeatedly has condemned the notion.