JERUSALEM (Feb. 2)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s “new peace plan” is not new and it is not a plan, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens assured nervous Jewish settlers in the West Bank town of Efrat Thursday.
“I have heard of no new plan, so I dare say there is none,” said Arens, a close political ally of the premier’s.
He was trying to squelch a wave of rumors and media speculation, especially in Western Europe, about Shamir’s ostensibly new “two-stage peace plan.”
The prime minister did indeed speak of a two-stage process in a widely quoted interview published Tuesday by the Paris daily Le Monde.
But it was no more than an enlargement on the Camp David principles that have guided Shamir’s policies for years, Arens said.
Few would dispute the foreign minister. Israeli commentators have been quick to note that Shamir’s ideas hardly veer from the Camp David formula.
They attribute the flurry of excitement in Europe to forgetfulness of what the Camp David accords actually contained.
Israeli correspondents got the same message from unnamed State Department officials in Washington this week. They made it clear that Shamir’s remarks have been authoritatively interpreted to them as anchored in Camp David.
They point to the five-year period of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, prescribed by Camp David to be followed by a second stage of negotiations to determine the final dispositon of the territories.
This in sum, is what Shamir has been talking about. Still, there is a sense of something new in the air here, to which Shamir and Arens have knowingly contributed.
Even in his remarks to the settlers Thursday, intended to allay their fears of possible concessions, Arens stressed that Shamir and the Cabinet would soon launch a “new diplomatic initiative.”
He did not elaborate. But in a statement last week, the foreign minister observed that Israel would have to take account of Palestinian aspirations.
Shamir himself, while cleaving to Camp David, let one important — and, for him, new — notion slip through to reporters.
He said Wednesday that the Israel Defense Force would be withdrawn from the centers of Arab populated towns in the territories during the autonomy period.
Camp David indeed prescribes troop with-drawals, though it does not specify they must be from towns.
The idea of pulling out of the heavily Arab populated regions originated with the late Moshe Dayan, who as foreign minister toyed with the idea of implementing the Camp David proposals unilaterally, as long as the Palestinians refused to accept them.
Jewish settlers in Hebron were quick to spot that notion in Shamir’s remarks, and they reacted furiously.
When Arens visited Hebron Thursday, he was warned by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, and activist in the Gush Emunim militant settlers movement, that any withdrawal would escalate the Palestinian uprising throughout the territories.
Shamir is saying some things he has never said before, and hard-liners on both sides of the conflict are beginning to pick up nuances.
For the moment, they are no more than nuances. Neither Shamir nor Arens has publicly backed the bolder, unequivocal proposals by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin: a phased cease-fire in the intifada, local elections for the Palestinians and Israeli negotiations with the officials they elect.
Shamir has dismissed Rabin’s ideas as “private,” meaning they were unworthy of Cabinet consideration.
The Palestinians, for their part, have rejected Rabin’s proposals as not sufficiently far-reaching and Shamir’s ideas as obsolete and a pretext for continuing the occupation.
But beneath the surface, there is recognition in the Palestinian camp of a new stirring of movement in Israel, by Rabin, representing the Labor Party mainstream, and the Shamir-Arens axis that leads Likud.