ROME (Feb. 16)
Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir spent his first full day in Rome fielding criticism from Italian government leaders over Israel’s tough policies against Palestinian rioters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He also met behind closed doors with representatives of Italy’s 35,000 strong Jewish community, normally tight-knit but now sharply divided over Israeli measures in the territories and apprehensive of an anti-Semitic backlash here.
Shamir arrived Monday amid extraordinary security measures at Leonardo da Vinci Airport. He met for a half hour Monday evening with President Francesco Cossiga and later with Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti. He was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Prime Minister Giovanni Goria and with the leadership of Italy’s seven major political parties.
His brief session with Cossiga appeared to have set the tone of his conversations here. Cossiga’s spokesman described it as an exchange that was “frank and faithful to points of view that don’t always converge.”
That is diplomatic jargon meaning the two leaders disagreed and neither was likely to budge. The newspaper La Stampa reported “a dialogue of the deaf.”
Cossiga reportedly told the Israeli premier Italy was gravely concerned and disturbed by repressive measures his government was taking against the Palestinians. Later, Andreotti deplored events in the Israeli-administered territories.
Italy also is trying to convince Shamir to moderate his opposition to an international conference for Middle East peace. Shamir insists on direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan and does not favor trading territory for peace.
The positions of both parties are by now well known to each other. Shamir met with Cossiga and Andreotti during their official visit to Israel two months ago, when the same issues were argued.
Shamir arrived here, however, at a time when unrest is continuing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and public opinion is running high against Israel.
He was preceded to Rome by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s foreign policy spokesman, Farouk Khaddoumi, all of whom condemned Israeli policies at their meetings with Italian leaders.
ITALIAN JEWS VEHEMENT
What may have surprised Shamir was the vehemence with which Italian Jews expressed their views. Tullia Zevi, president of the Italian Jewish community, spoke of the dangers to which the situation exposes Israeli citizens, as well as “the repercussions it provokes in our own community and in public opinion.”
She called for a speedy political settlement and defended the rights of diaspora Jews to hold and express a wide range of opinions in issues involving Israel. Zevi upheld this by presenting two documents to Shamir.
One was a sharply worded appeal, signed by 500 Italian Jewish leftists, criticizing the Israeli government for its policies toward the Palestinians.
The other, signed by 3,000 Jews, called for a just peace in the Middle East. But it expressed solidarity with the Israeli state and “complete faith in Israeli democracy…so unjustly attacked by a campaign of distortion of the facts whose roots lie in ignorance and anti-Semitism.”
The Jewish community’s meeting with Shamir reflected, nevertheless, deepening concern over the fallout on the local scene from Israeli acts in the administered territories. There has been an upsurge of anti-Semitic incidents here in recent weeks and a good deal of soul-searching on the part of Italian Jews.
ARABS SEEK CONTROL OF TEL AVIV
Shamir answered critics in the Jewish community by stressing that Israel could not allow itself to be perceived by the Arabs as weak. He claimed that the Palestinian youths rioting in the territories secretly aspired to gaining control of Tel Aviv and Haifa, not just the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In response to appeals that Israel negotiate directly with the Palestinians, Shamir invited his critics to “come to Israel and resolve our problems.” He added that finding a peaceful solution in Israel is not easy, “but what has ever been easy for the Jewish people?”
At a news conference Tuesday, Shamir said the unrest in the Israeli-administered territories was only a new phase in the continuing Arab war against Israel.
He admitted that the Israel Defense Force tactics against Palestinian rock-throwers have not ended the disturbances but said it was too early to tell whether they have been successful. He conceded that the IDF was “playing it by ear.”
“We have difficulties because on one hand we want to put an end to these riots…and on the other hand we don’t want to kill people and cause human losses,” Shamir said. “We have to find a way to put an end to this negative phenomenon and…not to endanger human life.”
The Israeli premier said he welcomed renewed U.S. efforts to bring about Middle East peace. But he said the United States has to be an “honest broker” without expressing its own position before an agreement is reached.