TEL AVIV (Feb. 25)
U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz said upon his arrival in Israel Thursday evening that he had brought “a workable proposal” to reach a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“Recent events have underscored a clear and crucial fact — the status quo in the region is not a stable option for any of the parties,” Shultz said. He added, however, that “the status quo must not be changed in a way that would endanger Israel’s security.”
The secretary of state, accompanied by his wife Helena and a large entourage, has set up headquarters at the Jerusalem Hilton Hotel, from where he will embark on shuttle diplomacy in neighboring Arab capitals over the next four days in an effort to sell his peace plan.
He will also make a strenuous effort to convince Premier Yitzhak Shamir, leader of the Likud faction, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, to reach a unified position on the peace process and his specific proposals.
Peres alluded to the deadlock between the unity coalition partners when he told Shultz, on greeting him at Ben-Gurion Airport, “George, I am not sure you will find our land a land of complete agreement. But I feel your coming is accepted and welcomed by all of us.”
Shultz is reported to have told American reporters accompanying him on his flight to Israel that he agreed with President Reagan that the unrest which has ravaged the West Bank and Gaza Strip for nearly three months was fomented by “outsiders.”
However, the secretary also was critical of Israel’s 20-year occupation, saying the Palestinians had no basic rights of self-government.
Reagan offered his explanation at a nationally televised White House news conference Wednesday night when he was asked why, while he has been “very eloquent on the subject of human rights in the Soviet Union and Nicaragua…you never condemned the treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied areas.”
Shultz told Peres at the airport that: “If we can work together with commitment and determination, we can make 1988 a year of peace in the region.
“We can make strides towards our goal of a comprehensive Middle East peace, if we all approach the situation with good will, open minds, and a realistic vision of what is possible. Now is the time to work for peace, and I am convinced I am bringing with me a workable proposal.”
Shultz stressed that: “The friendship and ties between Israel and the United States have never been so strong. The time is ripe to move ahead. The time is ripe to together make decisions of historic importance. On behalf of President Reagan I assure you of America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity.”
Peres, in his welcoming remarks, said it was acknowledged that the secretary of state came here “at a most demanding period in our lives, facing probably the most complicated issue of today.”
The foreign minister said his U.S. counterpart was “coming equipped with friendship, experience, wisdom and determination, and one should not necessarily, because of the complexity of the situation, share the well-publicized skepticism because I am sure that Israel, as her Arab neighbors, as the Arabs who reside with us, are convinced that there is no better alternative than to make the first step in the long march to bring peace to our people and to our area.”
Shultz had a grueling schedule planned. He was to spend Thursday evening consulting with his staff and officials of the U.S. Embassy. He has slated Friday meetings with Israeli leaders, beginning with breakfast at the residence of President Chaim Herzog. It will be attended by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering and Moshe Arad, Israel’s ambassador to Washington.
Later, Shultz will meet separately with Shamir at his office and with Peres at the Foreign Ministry, to be followed by a working lunch with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Friday afternoon has been set aside for meetings with former Soviet Jewish refuseniks. On Saturday morning, Shultz will fly to Amman and then to Damascus, returning to Jerusalem in the evening.
He is due to fly to Cairo Sunday, again returning to Jerusalem. He will make a second visit to Amman Monday and spend the evening in Jerusalem.
He is due to leave Israel Tuesday, probably for Brussels to brief America’s NATO allies on his Middle East mission.
PALESTINIAN MEETINGS UNLIKELY
While Shultz reportedly has left a time slot open for meetings with key Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they are unlikely to take place. The Palestine Liberation Organization has ruled out such contacts, and Palestinian leaders seem to have been intimidated.
Meanwhile, a leading Israeli commentator said Thursday that Shultz’s “lightning” visit to the region and any that might follow are unlikely to achieve a significant breakthrough before the American presidential elections next November and Israel’s Knesset elections in December.
According to Dan Patir, who was media adviser to former Premier Menachem Begin and currently directs the Jeane Kirkpatrick Forum, named for the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Shultz’s current trip has short-term objectives.
Writing in the newspaper Hadashot, Patir said those objectives were to:
Refute allegations that the United States is indifferent and reluctant to become involved in the Middle East conflict.
To demonstrate to the relevant parties–Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, Syria, Egypt and the Soviet Union — that Washington is interested in keeping a close watch on events in the region.
To re-assure the pro-Western Arab states — Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — that reliance on the United States pays off.