JERUSALEM (Jul. 18)
The Palestine Liberation Organization apparently has succeeded in igniting another bitter feud in the Labor-Likud coalition government during the election campaign.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, reacted with fury Monday to allegations by Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, a Laborite, that he had indeed negotiated with the PLO during a visit to Romania last September.
“There is not one word of truth in the comments of that man,” Shamir told reporters. “How can a person, with so much chutzpah, say things which do not have the minimal reliance on facts?” he asked.
The Labor Party minister affirmed as largely correct the claim by Bassam Abu-Sharif, one of PLO chief Yasir Arafat’s closest aides, that Shamir and a high-level PLO delegation had traded offers and counteroffers for an interim settlement of the conflict in the territories.
This took place in Bucharest, with Romania officials acting as intermediaries, Abu-Sharif told the French news agency Agence France-Presse in Baghdad on Sunday.
Shamir insists that in his talks in Romania, he had made it clear there was no room whatso-ever for negotiations with the PLO, “not now and not in the future.”
But Abu-Sharif said Shamir offered to let the PLO take over most of the functions of the Israeli civil administration in the territories, along the lines of the Camp David autonomy scheme. Israel would retain military control, pending a negotiated settlement.
The Palestinians, he said, countered by proposing that the United Nations take over interim rule of the territories and hold a plebiscite to determine their future status.
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Abu-Sharif challenged Shamir to deny his story and claimed he had documents to prove its authenticity.
Shahal affirmed this. He said the only way to end the dispute was for Shamir to produce for the Cabinet the minutes of his talks in Bucharest. Shamir has flatly refused.
He also declined to reveal the contents of a private message he received July 10 from Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu. That immediately triggered speculation that Ceausescu had conveyed an offer to negotiate from the PLO.
Shahal insisted in the press and on radio Monday that Abu-Sharif’s statements in the French interview were substantially true. He said he had evidence that during Shamir’s visit to Romania, the premier submitted a document to Ceausescu offering self-rule to the Palestinians in the West Bank, under PLO aegis.
According to Shahal the offer was based on the recommendations of former Likud activist Moshe Amirav, who was drummed out of the party last year when his secret contacts with Palestinians were revealed.
The object of Shamir’s proposals was to avoid a settlement with Jordan, Shahal claimed. The so-called Jordanian option is the cornerstone of the Labor Party’s peace policy.
Shamir called Shahal’s contentions “a filthy lie” and said he was “looking into” possible disciplinary actions against the Laborite minister.