JERUSALEM (Nov. 17)
Political debate in Israel this week is focussed on the recent Arab summit meeting and its possible effects on the Middle East peace process.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other Labor Party spokesmen argue vigorously that the summit, hosted in Amman by King Hussein, provided a rare opportunity to move toward Arab-Israeli peace negotiations through an international conference.
This assessment stems from the apparent victory of the moderate Arab states over the hard-liners, resulting in the rehabilitation of Egypt’s position in the Arab world. All but three Arab states broke off relations with Egypt, the largest of Arab states, on the heels of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
The Amman summit lifted the ban on relations, and seven Arab countries resumed full diplomatic ties with Egypt in the week since the summit ended — Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the latest and most important, oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Peres and his Labor colleagues can thus argue that by returning Egypt to the fold, the Arab states are signalling, indirectly, their acceptance of Israel.
Likud leadership takes a diametrically opposed view. Michael Eitan, speaking for the party in a Knesset debate Monday, contended that the reconciliation with Egypt was just another stage in the Arab struggle to eradicate Israel.
He noted that the summit reiterated all of the United Nations resolutions favoring the Palestinians, including the Nov. 29, 1947 partition resolution. According to Eitan, that in itself is sufficient to eliminate Hussein as a serious negotiating partner. And the summit went on to reendorse the Palestine Liberation Organization as an equal participant in any future negotiations, Eitan pointed out.
His appraisal was considerably more negative than that of Premier Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Likud, who was quick to welcome the Arab repprochement with Egypt and expressed hope for favorable political consequences in terms of the Arab world’s attitudes toward Israel.
Shamir is going to Washington this week for meetings with President Reagan and top administration officials.
Peres will be in Brussels Wednesday to begin a visit to Belgium, France and Britain. According to political observers, he will try to give new impetus to his proposals for an international conference as a harbinger for Mideast peace talks — as he did on trips to Western Europe earlier this year — and may offer some new ideas.
He will lunch with King Baudouin of Belgium Thursday and receive an honorary doctorate from Brussels Free University. On that occasion he will meet with President Mario Suarez of Portugal and President Abou Dif of Ivory Coast, both of whom will also receive honorary doctorates.
He also will confer with his Belgian counterpart, Leo Tindemann, and representatives of the European Economic Community.
Peres will arrive in Paris Thursday for meetings with President Francois Mitterrand and Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raymond. He goes to London Monday for talks with British Premier Margaret Thatcher and Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, and will return to Israel next Wednesday.
Israeli officials say Peres will suggest a peace conference under joint American-Soviet auspices, without the participation of the other three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — France, Britain and the Peoples Republic of China. This would be followed by direct Israel-Arab negotiations.
The view here is that Mitterrand and Thatcher will back his proposal. It is uncertain whether the Reagan Administration actively favors that approach and if Secretary of State George Shultz will seek Shamir’s support for it during their meeting in Washington.
It is also not clear whether the Soviets would be interested in co-chairing a superpower “umbrella” for Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Peres surely speaks of his own interest in movement on the peace issue. Addressing the Knesset plenum Monday, he asked rhetorically, “Are we to try and make diplomatic progress now, or are we to wait for the Messiah?”
While he acknowledged that the kind of international conference envisaged by the Arab summit differs sharply with Israel’s concept, the basic premise was the same: that the Arab-Israel conflict can be resolved by political means and that direct talks should take place after an “international opening.”
Responding to Likud hecklers, Peres demanded to know, “Would you favor negotiations even if there were not an international opening?” His implication was that Likud and its allies want no political dialogue with the Arabs lest it involve relinquishing some territory for peace.
He also noted that the Amman summit explicitly did not call for the creation of a Palestinian state, and he maintained this was no accident. He said that both Hussein and President Hafez Assad of Syria assured that no such reference was made in the summit’s final resolution.