TEL AVIV (Feb. 22)
The government is preparing diligently for the visit of U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who is due to arrive in Israel Thursday.
Five work teams have been set up to deal with various aspects of the intensive discussions with Shultz, two at the Prime Minister’s Office and three at the Foreign Ministry.
But despite the feverish activity, it appears that, barring last minute changes, the secretary of state will be confronted by an Israeli government more sharply divided than ever over the peace process.
Moreover, it is apparent that the American peace plan Shultz hopes to sell to the Israeli leadership, as well as the Arabs, during his upcoming Middle East tour will encounter stone-wall opposition from Premier Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud bloc.
It also appears unlikely that Shultz will have an opportunity to meet with Palestinian representatives from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Haaretz reported Monday that key Palestinian figures decided Sunday night not to attend any meetings with Shultz because of intimidation.
According to Haaretz, direct threats were made against them by the Palestine Liberation Organization radio, broadcasting from Baghdad, and the Al Quds Voice of Jerusalem) radio, operated from Syria by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a non-PLO terrorist group headed by Ahmed Jabril.
But most Israelis are seriously concerned with the failure of the two coalition partners, Labor and Likud, to work out a unified stand on the plan Shultz will present to the country’s leaders. Several Cabinet ministers are reported to have expressed dissatisfaction that no conclusive efforts have been made so far to narrow the gap.
NO SHAMIR-PERES MEETING YET
As of Sunday night, no meeting had been scheduled between Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party, to coordinate their positions. Peres has welcomed the American initiative, although he has stated he objects to certain of its provisions.
A last-minute attempt to achieve some semblance of unity will be made Wednesday when the Inner Cabinet, the government’s top policymaking body, convenes in special session on the eve of Shultz’s arrival.
The Inner Cabinet consists of five Labor and five Likud senior ministers. Shamir explained at the full Cabinet’s weekly meeting Sunday that he wanted these crucial discussions to be conducted within the smaller ministerial body to avoid demonstrative expressions of internal disunity and to reduce the likelihood of leaks to the news media.
But Cabinet ministers not included in the Inner Cabinet are indignant that they are being shut out. Some believe that Shamir’s main concern is to conceal the lack of unity, though it is hardly a secret in Israel.
Hadashot reported Monday that Shamir and his Likud ministers will attend the Inner Cabinet meeting determined to block any support for Peres and the American peace initiative.
All Likud members of the Inner Cabinet are united in their opposition to the peace plan, particularly the acceleration of the timetable for autonomy in the administered territories and the start of negotiations over their permanent status before the end of this year.
Shamir disclosed, in broad outline, the position he intends to take with Shultz in a speech Sunday night to leaders of the Keren Hayesod from Europe and South America.
SHAMIR WELCOMES VISIT
“When the secretary comes here on Thursday he will be welcomed with warmth and in a spirit of friendship,” the premier said. “We trust the U.S. and have confidence in her role as an honest broker who can bridge the gaps between different concepts.”
He added, “We shall listen to his (Shultz’s) ideas with the utmost attention. We will give most careful consideration to his views and proposals. He knows we are for peace, that we are ready for direct talks with our Arab neighbors.”
However, Shamir said, “We will explain our objections to an international conference, which by its nature and composition will, in our view, be counterproductive.
“And when the time comes for decision, we shall decide on the basis of what is in our national interest,” he said. “I hope that, as in the past, our interests and those of the U.S. will coincide and that we will find an agreed, common approach.”
Yediot Achronot reported Monday that Shamir has authorized a demonstration by his supporters outside the Prime Minister’s Office while he is meeting with Shultz on Friday. His only condition was that the protests should be an expression of solidarity with Shamir’s policies, not directed personally against Shultz, Yediot Achro-not said.
NEW IDEAS ON REFUGEE CAMPS
Maariv reported Monday that Shamir and his associates have formulated practical proposals for the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugee camps. They will be presented to Shultz by the work team headed by Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein, a close Shamir aide.
In addition, Shamir’s position was said to include a plan for solving the Palestinian refugee problem, a comprehensive plan for peace with Jordan and a detailed autonomy plan, Maariv reported.
With respect to the refugee camps, which international observers have reported to be in deplorable condition, Shamir will propose 41,000 new residential units for the 280,000 refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. About 30,000 units will be built in the Gaza Strip and 11,000 in the West Bank.