JERUSALEM (Oct. 14)
When Secretary of State George Shultz arrives here Friday afternoon he will be stepping into the middle of a fierce dispute within Israel’s unity coalition government likely to put his diplomatic talents to their most severe test.
Leaders of the Labor Party and Likud spent the Succoth holiday honing their arguments for and against the proposed international conference for Middle East peace. These will be heard by Shultz during his series of meetings with Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, both of whom appear to have staked their political fortunes on the outcome, which is likely to set the course of Israeli foreign policy in the months ahead. Shultz’s arrival will also coincide with one of the worst periods of violence and unrest in the administered territories. Palestinians seem determined to convey to the U.S. Secretary of State that no option for the peace process, whether Labor’s or Likud’s, has any chance without the involvement of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Shamir and his Likud Party are fearful that an international conference with the participation of the Soviet Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, will be weighted against Israel and force it to relinquish territory and make other concessions inimical to its future security.
ATTITUDE OF LIKUD MINISTERS
At a Likud meeting Tuesday, the Ministers agreed unanimously that the government must oppose any proposals Shultz might bring with him for an international conference and insist that only direct negotiations, based on the Camp David accords, can open the way to peace.
Peres, who strongly advocates the conference scenario, subject to certain basic conditions, took issue Wednesday with Shamir’s remark that the international conference was “dead.”
“The visit of Shultz to Israel proves the opposite,” Peres declared. He recalled that “the 1973 international conference led to the settlement with Egypt.” Peres also reacted to Shamir’s charge that Labor wants to return the administered territories to the Arabs.
The Likud, Peres said, “is a builder of a binational state. The demographic situation is more dangerous than the geographical situation.” He was referring to the apparently well grounded fear that Israel’s continued rule over nearly two million Arabs will inevitably lead to an Arab population equal to or surpassing the Jewish populations, given current demographic projections based on the Arab and Jewish birth rates.
Both Labor and Likud agree on one thing: that prospects are slim for a political breakthrough during Shultz’s visit.
ISSUES ON SHULTZ’S AGENDA
But American sources at the United Nations say the peace process will not be the main focus of Shultz’s meetings with Israeli leaders, Haaretz reported Wednesday. The sources were quoted as saying that Shultz intends to discuss primarily the new U.S.-Saudi Arabian arms sales deal, agreed to last week by the Reagan Administration and Congress, and will ask Israel not to enter into conflict with the Administration on this issue.
Reports from Washington indicate the Americans believe Shultz’s visit to the Middle East before going to Moscow for arms control talks is intended to show the Soviets that the United States is still the most influential power in the region.
Hadashot reported Wednesday that Shultz will propose to Shamir that Israel enter into an interim arrangement with Jordan for joint administration of the territories in the framework of direct negotiations under the umbrella of an international conference.
According to Hadashot, Shultz will bring to Shamir, for the first time, the specific agreement of King Hussein of Jordan to an arrangement whereby most of the civilian administrative authority in the territories would be transferred to Jordan while Israel continues its responsibility for security.
Shultz will stress that the arrangement is only temporary and would not affect Jewish settlements in the territories, Hadashot said. It also quoted American sources as saying that Shultz is much concerned by the escalation of violence in the territories on the eve of his visit. He believes that only progress in political negotiations will curb terrorism and thwart extremist groups trying to torpedo the political process, Hadashot said.
RELATIVE CALM IN THE TERRITORIES
The territories and East Jerusalem were relatively calm Wednesday although there were several rock-throwing incidents and a partially effective commercial strike in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. Maariv reported that security forces were deploying to prevent a renewal of disturbances during Shultz’s visit.
A curfew was imposed on the Dahaishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem after stones were thrown at Israeli vehicles. Twenty-five Arab youths were detained at the Anata refugee camp north of Jerusalem on suspicion of “public disorder.”
Shultz will be in Israel from Friday to Monday, though he is expected to make a brief flying visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, when Israel government offices are closed. In addition to Israeli leaders, he has asked to meet with “moderate Palestinians.” He is expected to greet Ida Nudel, the longtime refusenik who will arrive from Moscow Thursday night.