JERUSALEM (Mar. 27)
Cabinet sources seemed at a loss Sunday to explain what U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz hopes to achieve on his upcoming return visit to the Middle East, having failed on his two previous visits this month to sell his peace package to the Israeli and Arab leadership.
Shultz’s trip was announced by the U.S. State Department Saturday, to begin April 3.
After hearing a report by Premier Yitzhak Shamir at the weekly Cabinet meeting, some top Israeli policy-makers said they could not understand the purpose of the visit, unless Shultz has new ideas or facts he has not yet shared.
Barring that, his intention may be nothing more than to demonstrate the American administration’s determination to maintain the momentum of its peace initiative, they said.
The sources said they have no indication that Shultz made progress in his talks in Washington last week with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The superpowers remain at odds over the proposed international conference.
Moscow wants a conference that would be the centerpiece of Middle East peace negotiations. Shultz’s idea is for an international umbrella for direct Arab-Israeli talks, with no power to impose solutions or veto agreements.
Shultz so far has received no response to his peace plan from the Arab states, except Egypt, which supports it. The Israeli government is divided between the Labor Party, headed by a foreign minister who backs the American initiative, and Shamir and his Likud bloc, which vehemently oppose it.
The cool response to the news that Shultz was returning to the region next week was not shared by the Laborites, who welcomed his trip. Shamir, however, reiterated his objections to Shultz’s ideas.
He not only rejects the international conference scenario, but objects to the idea advanced by Shultz that the United States would state its position on interim arrangements for Palestinian self-government in the administered territories as soon as negotiations on that aspect began.
Shamir also opposes the American insistence that negotiations begin on the final status of the territories before agreement is reached on the interim phase, and before that phase is tested.
But Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has repeatedly blasted Shamir’s strictures as a deliberate effort to frighten Israelis. Education Minister Yitzhak Navon, a Laborite, warned Sunday that failure to accept the Shultz initiative could lead to a deterioration of the situation in the territories that might jeopardize the peace treaty with Egypt.