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Labor-likud Flap over Implied Israeli Endorsement of Alleged Softer U.S. Stance Toward the PLO

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Reports that the U.S. is softening its position on contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization — vigorously denied in Washington today — have touched off a new controversy in the Labor-Likud unity coalition government.

Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir “strongly objected” to any such change, a spokesman for the Likud leader said tonight.

Likud sources claimed that a statement by Premier Shimon Peres at a closed door briefing of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee this week, implied Israeli endorsement of the allegedly softer American stance toward the PLO.

According to Likud, the U.S. now requires only three conditions for PLO participation in the peace process — acceptance of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, abandonment of terrorism, and readiness to negotiate with Israel.

This, Likud says, is a change relative to the 1975 commitment by then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that the U.S. would have no dealings with the PLO until it publicly recognizes Israel’s right to exist — in addition to the other conditions.

The Kissinger commitment has been a pillar of U.S. Mideast policy. Likud contends that the new wording is a “softening” and that Peres appears to have indicated support for it. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a vaguely worded denial today. Labor Party sources said the Likud version was “grossly exaggerated.”

(In Washington today, State Department deputy spokesman Charles Redman declared flatly, “The U.S. position on the PLO has not changed.” Responding to reports in the Israeli press, he asserted that “U.S. policy since 1975 has been that we will neither recognize nor negotiate with the PLO until it accepts UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.”) (Separate story, P. 3.)

Some Labor Party sources said today that a readiness by the PLO to negotiate directly with Israel would in fact be a more tangible demonstration that it recognizes Israel than any declaration it might issue, and which it could later repudiate.

Likud insists there is a change in U.S. and Israel policy which seems to signify eventual negotiations involving the PLO. “Our policy must make it clear that we will not negotiate with the PLO on any terms,” Likud MK Dan Meridor said today.

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