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Despite Dwindling Support at Home, Peres Pressing on with Proposal for Mideast Peace Conference

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is tenaciously pressing his initiative for an international conference for Middle East peace, although many observers here consider it moribund if not yet dead and even some of his Labor Party colleagues have had second thoughts.

Peres’ proposed scenario has put him and Labor on a collision course with Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Likud.

Peres’ strategy continues to be to force the break-up of the unity coalition government and put the issue before the public. So far, Labor has not been able to muster the requisite number of votes to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections.

Another course, a national referendum on the peace conference issue, was flatly rejected by Shamir, and legal experts within the Labor Party doubt it is practical. The latter point out it is questionable that the results of a referendum would be legally binding.

Peres is reverting to a tactic he employed earlier in the year — to gain the support of American and Western European leaders for an international conference in hope that their influence would turn the tide at home.

ISRAELI ISSUE SAYS RABIN

But Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said during a visit to France over the weekend that the dispute over an international conference must be resolved in Israel before it is thrown into the international arena. Peres refuses to wait.

He is reportedly scheduled to visit Britain, France and West Germany next week. He hopes to advance his ideas at meetings with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Francois Mitterrand and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, respectively. He is seeking their support for a conference which would include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, with one major precondition — that the Soviet Union re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel and allow free emigration for Soviet Jews.

Shamir warned Sunday that Peres is not authorized to speak for the Israel government on an international conference. He has issued the same warning on previous Peres trips abroad. When Peres was in Washington in April seeking Administration support, Shamir informed the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv that the government was opposed to an international forum and there was no national consensus on the issue.

Peres attacked Likud in a speech to a Labor Zionist forum over the weekend. “They went into the Lebanon war without a national consensus and now they want a consensus without peace,” he said. He vowed that “the campaign for peace will continue and will eventually be put to the people for a decision.”

Peres said on an Army Radio interview Saturday that if there is no progress toward peace this year, there will be none until 1989, because next year is an election year in both Israel and the U.S.

TALKING WITH VISITORS, TOO

Meanwhile, Peres is raising the issue with visiting diplomats. He will discuss it with The Netherlands Foreign Minister, Hans Van Der Brock, who was expected to arrive in Israel Sunday. Marrack Goulding, Undersecretary General of the United Nations for Political Affairs, arrived here Saturday night to begin a Mideast tour to sound out the various regimes in the region on the possibility of convening a preparatory committee to help set up an international conference.

Meanwhile in New York, Yossi Beilin, Political Director General of the Foreign Ministry and a close associate of Peres, met with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to discuss the issue. Kissinger went on record last month against the idea. Beilin apparently is trying to repair the damage caused to Peres’ initiative by Kissinger’s comments.

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