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News Analysis: Shamir Going to U.S. with Backing, but He Must Also Bring Fresh Ideas

“Everyone is waiting for Godot,” Seymour Reich said this week.

The chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was referring to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is due to introduce his long-awaited ideas for a potential breakthrough in the Middle East stalemate when he meets in Washington with President Bush on April 6.

Officials in Washington, Tunis, Cairo, Amman and even Jerusalem are holding their breath, waiting to hear what Israel’s premier will tell the United States.

Shamir keeps his cards close to his chest, and so far has revealed virtually nothing substantial.

Speaking this week at the Prime Minister’s Conference on Jewish Solidarity With Israel, he reiterated that he intends to come to Washington with “new ideas.”

But he did not indicate whether this meant a new, more flexible, Israeli policy.

President Chaim Herzog stressed this week that the world conference was called to let Diaspora Jewry express solidarity with the state, and not with a specific political view.

But the bottom line is that the one person who benefits most from the conference is Yitzhak Shamir.

Shamir will go to Washington appearing as strong as Menachem Begin did when he was premier, and much stronger than Shimon Peres, who had the sword of rotation in the premiership hanging over him throughout his two years in office.

UNCONTESTED RULER OF ISRAEL

Shamir is now the uncontested ruler of Israel. Within just a few short years, he has transformed himself from a seemingly mediocre politician, who just happened to be around when Begin retired, to a national leader with true stature.

The key question, of course, is: Will Shamir move toward the American position that the Palestinian Liberation Organization can no longer be boycotted?

The daily newspaper Ha’aretz wrote a toughly worded editorial Tuesday in which it urged Shamir to drop the boycott against the PLO.

“As long as he fails to do so,” wrote Haaretz, “he will only worsen Israel’s isolation in the regional and international arena, and the intifada in the territories will continue and perhaps even get worse.”

But in public appearances as late as this week, Shamir has repeated time and again that Israel will not hold talks with the PLO.

However, he has not ruled out negotiations with Palestinian representatives chosen in elections inside the territories, as Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and some U.S. officials have proposed. This may turn out to be one of the “new” ideas Shamir takes with him to Washington.

Shamir’s immediate challenge is how not to disappoint his American hosts, how to maintain at least the appearance of momentum in the peace process — and at the same time not give up an inch of the biblical Land of Israel.

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