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Rabin: Issue of Mideast Conference Must Be Taken to the Electorate if the Cabinet Remains Deadlocked

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Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, maintaining that an international conference followed by bilateral talks is the only avenue to Middle East peace at this time, declared Wednesday night that the Labor Party will continue to press for it and that if the Cabinet remains deadlocked the issue must be taken to the electorate.

“We don’t envision a chance for any other peace process in the near future, apart from the peace between Egypt and Israel, and therefore for us this appears to be a cardinal issue,” Rabin said in an interview on Israel Radio’s Arabic language service. “In accordance with the government’s basic guidelines; we consider the achievement of peace to be a central objective of government policy,” Rabin said.

He said the Labor Party is convinced that the proposals for an international conference put forward by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will “lead to direct, bilateral negotiations with Jordan and Palestinians who are not PLO members….and perhaps with additional neighboring Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon…. this following the framework of an opening international conference.” Rabin stressed that Israel would not negotiate with the PLO. He conceded that Peres’ failure to win the Inner Cabinet’s approval of his proposals was “for the time being, certainly no achievement.”

“It is necessary that the main Cabinet components (Labor and Likud) acknowledge that we’ve reached a point of basic controversy and let us ask the people’s opinion in elections,” Rabin said. “If the Likud gives a negative reply, let’s wait and see.”

He said Likud’s argument that this is not an appropriate time for elections “does not constitute an adequate reply to our stand.”

Rabin spoke to high school seniors in Herzliya Thursday–at the invitation of Lidud Mayor Eli Landau–and answered their questions about his position on the administered territories. The legal status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has never been defined by any Israel government, Rabin explained. The permanent status of the territories will be established in negotiations which will afford Israel freedom to bring forward any proposals it wants in direct peace talks, he said.

Rabin was highly critical of violent acts in the West Bank, whether by Arabs or Gush Emunim militants. “Such illegal actions disturb the peace, violate the law and do not help the fight against terrorism, maybe just the opposite,” he said.

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