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International Conference or Not? Israeli Spokesmen Have It out

Talks here this week by two leading Israeli political figures illustrated just how polarized their parties’ views are on an international Mideast peace conference.

Yossi Beilin, Political Director General of the Israel Foreign Ministry, stressed Wednesday that an international conference is the “only option” now open to bring about direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan.

If such a conference were held and failed, then there might be “a chance for another option,” he said in an interview at the Israel Embassy here. “Unless this option is exhausted, you won’t know whether there is another option.”

Beilin, a close associate of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the Labor Party, spoke with four reporters from the Jewish press the day after Likud MK Dan Meridor argued here against the international conference on the grounds that its aim was to bring the Soviet Union into the Middle East process.

“The Soviets have to be in, otherwise there won’t be an international conference,” Beilin said.

SAID JORDAN NEED ‘UMBRELLA’

He said Jordan, which has demanded that an international conference include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, feels it needs the Soviets because of Moscow’s ties with Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization. With the Soviet “umbrella,” Jordan could then reach agreements without involving the PLO or Syria, he explained.

But Beilin stressed that “there is a consensus in Israel” that the USSR could not participate without improving its policy on the emigration of Soviet Jews and without first restoring diplomatic ties with Israel.

While in Washington, Beilin met with Michael Armacost, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. One purpose was to discuss Murphy’s upcoming meeting with his Soviet counterpart.

MERIDOR PREFERS CAMP DAVID PROCESS

The Israel Inner Cabinet recently deadlocked over an international conference, with Labor urging Israel’s participation, and Likud opposed.

Indeed, Meridor maintained Tuesday that a return to the Camp David Accords, not an international conference, is the way to end the Arab-Israel conflict.

The Soviet Union is pressing for an international conference as a means of getting back into the Middle East, he stressed during two appearances here. He said allowing this would neither benefit Israel nor the United States.

Meridor stressed that the conference would not be an “umbrella” for direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan, but would deal with substantive issues. “America and Russia will be courting the Arabs,” he said, “and it will be at our expense.”

Meridor, who was elected to the Knesset in 1984 after serving two years as Cabinet Secretary under Premiers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, gave his views on the peace process, first at a breakfast for reporters at the office of Foreign Policy magazine and then at the Brookings Institution.

He was visiting the U.S. under the auspices of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

NOT NOW, MERIDOR SAYS

Meridor argued that the questions of borders and sovereignty of the West Bank cannot be settled at this time. He said both Israel and Jordan want peace but are “not ready to compromise on territory.”

Instead of getting bogged down on these issues, Israel and Jordan should discuss how to allow the Palestinians to run their own affairs in Judaea, Samaria and Gaza with minimum interference from Israel except for security matters, he recommended. This is basically the autonomy plan as envisioned by the Camp David Accords.

He said that if autonomy worked then both sides might be ready to discuss the issues of sovereignty over the areas and possible compromises over the territory.

The best solution, according to Meridor, would be for the Palestinians to maintain citizenship in Jordan and participate in its government and the Jewish settlers on the West Bank continue as citizens of Israel.

He said if no agreement was possible then he would allow the Palestinians in the territories to opt for Israeli citizenship, which would mean an increase in the number of Arabs in the Knesset.

BEILIN SEES OPPORTUNITY NOW

But Beilin said the time is ripe to make moves on peace. “There is now an opportunity, there is an opening as a result of very intensive and low-profile negotiations, with the participation of the Americans, in the Middle East for the last two years,” Beilin said.

For Beilin, “The question is whether we are going to continue and have a war every seven or eight years” or try something else.

He maintained that the Cabinet has made no formal decision on the conference, but said he expects one within the next eight weeks before the Knesset adjourns for the summer. He said the decision could be made by the government or through the Knesset deciding on an early election.

He said Israel has nothing to fear. “Why should we be afraid of this conference, if we are not afraid of so many resolutions taken against us in the UN?” he said.

If Israel should agree on attending an international conference, Beilin believes it would only be a matter of months before it would be held. He said the first step would be for the U.S. and the Soviets to work out the “rules of the game.”

At the same time, he stressed a “must” for Israel would be a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. on the conference.

The U.S. has said that such a conference must lead promptly to direct negotiations. The U.S. has also promised to walk out with Israel if the conference deadlocks.

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