JERUSALEM (Mar. 7)
Two ranking Labor Party ministers are publicly urging future negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, despite the fact that the party has committed itself to opposing such a dialogue.
One of the ministers has also given credence to claims made repeatedly by PLO chairman Yasir Arafat that there have been indirect contacts between Israel and the PLO over a cease-fire in southern Lebanon — despite official Israeli denials.
The two ministers are Moshe Shahal, minister of energy, and Gad Ya’acobi, minister of communications, both of whom see themselves as possible future party leaders.
The two have voiced criticism recently of the Labor Party’s current leadership and present policies.
Shahal told reporters Monday that “Arafat is very eager for a South Lebanon truce” and is trying to achieve one through contacts via the United States.
Shahal said there was evidence that Arafat had ordered his forces in that region to cool down, but not entirely cease, armed action, as long as Israel continues its sporadic air and ground raids.
On the broader Israeli-Palestinian issue, Shahal proposed a new memorandum of understanding between Jerusalem and Washington in which the conditions for dialogue with the Palestinians would include their abandonment of the right of return to the territory of pre-1967 Israel.
If Israel could be sure that the United States would stick fast to that principle, Shahal said he would favor negotiations between Israel and any Palestinians who met the conditions. He spoke of a possible Jordan-Palestinian confederation as the ultimate solution.
SAYS ‘JORDANIAN OPTION’ IS DEAD
Shahal was unequivocal in rejecting any attempted distinction between Palestinians inside the territories and those living abroad, in terms of their political representation.
Ya’acobi, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post published Tuesday, envisaged talks with Arafat if the PLO leader were to be elected by the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians as their representative.
He appeared to approve of Arafat and other diaspora Palestinians running in elections in the territories, alongside local candidates.
Ya’acobi said boldly that the “Jordanian option,” long the central plank of Labor Party peace policy, is no longer relevant.
Both ministers thereby diverged sharply from their party’s past policies and also from the leadership’s more recent amendment to that policy: Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s proposal for elections that would produce an indigenous “alternative leadership” for the Palestinians and neutralize the influence of the PLO.
The two appeared to line up with Ministers Mordechai Gur and Ezer Weizman, who in recent weeks have also outlined positions that imply eventual negotiations between Israel and the PLO, and do not rule out a form of Palestinian sovereignty, though within a broader framework of confederation.
The two ministers’ views are a far cry from Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s repeated assertions that Israel will never negotiate with the PLO, and that it will not swap territory for peace.
But the direct and immediate domestic fallout is likely to be felt within the crisis-ridden Labor Party, rather than between Labor and Likud.
Likud is riding high at this time after its marked successes in the Feb. 28 municipal elections.
Likud leaders watch with unconcealed gratification such embarrassing and weakening public upheavals inside Labor.