TEL AVIV (Feb. 24)
The Inner Cabinet met for two hours Wednesday without reconciling the sharp differences between its five Labor Party and five Likud faction members over the peace process.
The outcome was not unexpected, but it leaves the government without a unified position toward the new American peace plan that U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz is bringing here. Shultz is due in Israel Thursday evening.
The Inner Cabinet is the government’s top policy-making body. Participants in Wednesday’s meeting said it was “quiet. . . academic. . . without surprises. . . and inconclusive.”
They indicated that the Likud ministers, led by Premier Yitzhak Shamir, and the Laborites, headed by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, reiterated their respective positions. But the gap between the coalition partners was not narrowed.
Likud insists that Middle East peace talks must be based on the 1978 Camp David accords and wants direct negotiations on autonomy for the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but not the territories themselves. Likud rejects out of hand the idea of exchanging territory for peace, although Shamir reportedly wavered on that stand in a January letter to Shultz.
Labor is prepared to propose territorial concessions during direct peace talks to be preceded by some form of international conference that would serve as an umbrella for the peace process, but not determine its outcome.
Of the two positions, Labor’s is closer to the American plan, which would accelerate the timetable for autonomy and negotiations over the permanent status of the territories.
The Inner Cabinet is expected to hold further sessions during Shultz’s stay in Jerusalem. According to some media reports, the secretary of state will use Jerusalem as a base for shuttle diplomacy, flying to a different Arab capital each day in an effort to sell his ideas for the peace process.
According to these reports, Shultz will hold separate meetings every evening with Shamir and Peres and their respective aides until the two Israeli factions reach some semblance of agreement in their approach to peace. There is no indication how long Shultz may be in the region.