JERUSALEM (Feb. 1)
Leaders of Israel’s two major political parties expressed enthusiasm Monday for a new American peace proposal that would speedily come to grips with the unrest in the administered territories.
Details of the plan were disclosed by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the Labor Party, who said he was pleased by the “tight scheduling and burning belief” in the initiative demonstrated by the American policy makers.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir, leader of the Likud bloc, expressed more cautious support for the American plan, which envisages some form of autonomy — referred to as “interim arrangements” — for the territories “within a few weeks.”
According to Shamir, the plan is the best way to “protect” Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to ensure the future of Jewish settlements there.
But all indications are that Shamir will have a tough time selling the plan to militant settlers, already at a high pitch of anger over events in the territories and the latest terrorist act — a firebombing Sunday night that severely burned a settler from Beit-El, Dov Kalmanovich.
Shamir’s task will not be made easier by the fiercely negative reaction the plan already has received from two Likud hardliners, Commerce and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon and Housing Minister David Levy, both potential rivals of Shamir for leadership of the bloc’s Herut wing.
Nor have key Arab players shown much support for the U.S. effort. Several elements already have been flatly rejected by Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
SHORTER INTERIM PERIOD
The American initiative, as described by Peres, seems to be an amalgam of past proposals, but with a new timetable. The plan envisages a shortened interim period — four years of autonomy instead of five set by the 1978 Camp David formula — and an earlier start to negotiations to determine the final status of the territories.
Camp David provided that the negotiations begin no later than the third year after the autonomy program is in place. The Americans are now speaking of “two to three months.”
There are signs the American plan was cobbled together to accommodate the differing points of view within Israel and the Arab camp.
Coming as it does after a long period of dormancy in Washington with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict, it appears to reflect a sudden alarm in the United States over the continued deteriorations of the situation in the administered territories.
According to Peres, the interim autonomy arrangements in the territories would be put in place “within a few weeks,” to be followed by convening of an “international conference or opening within two or three months.” Negotiations would follow to work out a permanent arrangement for the administered territories.
Peres has long been advocating an international conference as a lead-in for direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, with the possible participation of other Arab countries.
This has been fiercely opposed by Shamir, who insists on the Camp David formula of negotiations for Palestinian autonomy between Israel and Egypt, with Jordan entering the talks at some later stage.
CALL FOR SYRIAN ROLE
In Paris, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reiterated his opposition Monday to a peace conference limited to Israel, Egypt and Jordan. “It is very important that Syria would participate in such a conference,” he said.
Peres said in an army radio interview Monday that he is “not doctrinaire” about an international conference. “I want to see progress toward peace,” he said. The foreign minister said he welcomes the Americans diplomatic agenda, even if it involves a compressed timetable.
Peres said the United States would “enunciate its own position,” both on the interim arrangements and a permanent settlement. He predicted the position on a permanent settlement would be along the lines of “the Reagan plan–plus or minus.”
The Reagan plan, the first and so far only diplomatic initiative by President Reagan on the Arab-Israeli conflict, was announced on Sept. 1, 1982. It calls for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be run by the Palestinians but linked with Jordan. It is predicated on Israel’s withdrawal from the territories, but rules out the establishment of a Palestinian state there.
The Reagan initiative was rejected by Israel at the time and was rarely referred to again by the administration.
The latest version got an immediate cold shoulder from Jordan. This was particularly embarrassing to Washington, because veteran Middle East troubleshooter Philip Habib had been called out of retirement to go to Amman to sell the plan.
He met over the weekend with King Hussein and Jordanian Prime Minister Zaid Al-Rifai, apparently with little success. Hussein promptly took off for a tour of Western European capitals to continue lobbying for an international peace conference, which he says is the only forum for Arab-Israeli negotiations.
In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Habib also met Sunday in Paris with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid and aides to Mubarak. The American envoy was scheduled to return to Washington on Monday to brief Shultz on the meeting.
SHAMIR LOBBIES SETTLERS
Shamir did some lobbying of his own Monday for the new peace initiative. At an emotional meeting with settlement leaders from the West Bank, he extolled the autonomy provisions of the American plan. He said Israel was engaged in a historic struggle to retain its presence and control in the administered territories and that the autonomy scheme was the way to achieve this.
But Shevach Stern, a spokesman for the settlement leaders, said he and his colleagues were less than convinced. He said they were not pleased by Shamir’s vaguely supportive reply when the settlers urged the immediate establishment of new settlements.
The premier “said the timing was wrong,” Stern told reporters as the settlers left the Prime Minister’s Office. They had gone there to discuss improving security for the settlers.
Sharon, who many believe hopes to replace Shamir as leader of Likud’s Herut wing and as prime minister, toured Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip on Monday. He stressed the dangers of deviating from the original autonomy proposals formulated by Israel after the Camp David accords.
The Israel Defense Force and other security forces must be able to continue their operations untrammelled throughout the territories during the interim autonomy period and beyond, Sharon said.
“There must be no Jordanian police, no Jordanian soldiers, no Jordanian officials. The Reagan plan is not the same as our autonomy plan,” Sharon declared.
He urged a “massive and speedy” drive to expand existing settlements and put up new ones “in place where we planned for settlement but have not yet actually settled.” Sharon made similar remarks Sunday night at a Herut party meeting in Rishon le-Zion. At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Sharon and Levy stressed the dangers, in their view, of any deviation whatsoever from the Camp David accords.