JERUSALEM (Feb. 10)
U.S. Middle East envoy Richard Murphy found broad support among Israel’s Labor Party leaders Wednesday for new American ideas on how to come to grips with unrest in the administered territories and accelerate the peace process in the region.
But he ran into stiff resistance from Premier Yitzhak Shamir, leader of the Likud bloc, according to informed sources here.
Murphy, who is assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, arrived in Israel Tuesday night from Egypt, where he conferred with President Hosni Mubarak. Earlier he visited Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The diplomatic troubleshooter had little to say to reporters, save that he was encouraged during his brief and intensive talks here by the “enthusiasm” with which all parties in the region welcomed the renewed American involvement in the Middle East. He gave no details.
Murphy met Tuesday night with Shamir and his aides. On Wednesday, he met with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Murphy is to report to Secretary of State George Shultz when he returns to Washington. Shultz is expected to decide whether Murphy’s mission achieved the momentum that would justify a high-profile visit to the region. According to some Israeli sources, Shultz is considering a trip to the Middle East before going to Moscow later this month.
The nub of the American proposals conveyed by Murphy is the determination to launch negotiations on the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the end of this year.
OPPOSITION FROM SHAMIR
It is precisely that which is adamantly opposed by Shamir and the Likud, sources here said. Under the American plan, the negotiations would begin regardless of whether the parties reach agreement beforehand on interim arrangements, shorthand for Palestinian autonomy.
Aides to Shamir point out that the 1978 Camp David accords make discussion of permanent status conditional on prior agreement between the parties on a transitional arrangement. The United States, a signatory of the Camp David accords, apparently has dropped the condition.
It is a major shift. In on-and-off negotiations between 1979 and 1982, Israel and Egypt failed to reach agreement on autonomy, which each country interpreted differently. Talks on the permanent status of the territories therefore never began.
The United States seems to be trying to break the deadlock by unlinking the two stages. The transitional stage, the Americans propose now, should be concluded and take effect within a few months. It would last three years, instead of the five years envisioned in the Camp David agreement. But Washington wants talks on the final status of the territories to start in December, right after the national elections in the United States and Israel.
The parties, moreover, are being asked to agree in advance to this timetable.