MADRID (Apr. 6)
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met for over an hour with King Juan Carlos at the Zarzuela Palace Monday and said afterwards that “His Majesty has promised to do what he can to help peace in the Middle East.” But Spanish officials are puzzled by what they see as a strange dichotomy within the Israeli government over how peace in the region should be pursued.
Peres, here on a two-day official visit, the first by an Israeli Foreign Minister since Spain and Israel established diplomatic relations more than a year ago, made clear he was seeking Spanish support for an international conference for Middle East peace.
But the Israel government’s position on this issue is “far from clear,” a senior Spanish diplomat, Ambassador Jorge Dezcaller, told Israeli correspondents at a briefing Monday. Dezcaller, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East department, said “We are puzzled by the Israeli government. On the one hand, Foreign Minister Peres advocates a peace process, on the other, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has informed our Ambassador of his opposition to the plan.”
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, who had a three-hour meeting with Peres Monday, pledged that his government would use its contacts in the Arab world to see if an international conference can be advanced, Israeli sources here said. Even so, Spain and Israel have different conceptions of an international conference.
Spain believes the Soviet Union and the Palestinians should participate. Israelis, at least those who share Peres’ views, would exclude the Soviet Union unless it re-established diplomatic ties with Israel. They would accept Palestinian representatives, but only those with no connections to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW
In statements to the press, to Spanish officials and to representatives of Spain’s 13,000-member Jewish community, Peres spoke of relations with Moscow. He stressed Israel’s current diplomatic priority is to improve them. The test of Soviet sincerity will be its opening of the gates for all Russian Jews who want to leave, Peres said. He called reports that exit visas would be granted to 11,000-12,000 Jews this year “a promising start” but far from satisfactory in view of the estimated 380,000 seeking them.
Peres also met Monday with Foreign Minister Fernando Ordonez who invited Israel to participate in the Spanish National Exhibition in Seville in 1992, commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage of discovery. He said a special pavilion would be devoted to the Jewish contribution to Spanish history and culture.
Peres, at his meeting with the King, invited Juan Carlos to visit Israel “to repair a 500-year-old injustice” — the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Juan Carlos reportedly replied that he would be happy to visit Israel. But no definite plans can be made. Such a visit must be approved by the government and would entail lengthy and detailed preparations.