JERUSALEM (Mar. 27)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir says he will be telling President Bush and U.S. administration officials next week “things I have not said before” regarding possibilities for peace in the Middle East.
In media interviews here connected with the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, the prime minister said he was “working on formulas” he hopes will achieve unanimous Cabinet backing.
At Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, however, Shamir did not immediately respond to demands from some Labor ministers for a full-scale foreign policy debate by the Cabinet before the premier’s important visit to Washington.
Shamir said he would think over this request. If he concurs, the debate presumably will take place this Sunday.
Among the Laborites pressing for a debate were two who have announced their future candidacies for the leadership of the party: Mordechai Gur, who holds no Cabinet portfolio, and Communications Minister Gad Ya’acobi.
Ya’acobi urged that the Cabinet adopt a resolution before Shamir’s trip accepting the principle of giving up land for peace. Shamir, who heads the rival Likud bloc, has vowed repeatedly not to give up “one inch” of the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria.
TURMOIL WITHIN LABOR PARTY
Media speculation here this week is focusing on how Shamir will revive the long-dormant autonomy proposal for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Commentators expect the premier to suggest a broader and more generous scheme than that proposed by Israel when the autonomy talks with Egypt were suspended early in 1982. One newspaper Monday predicted that he will urge municipal elections in the territories, but not a referendum covering the entire area.
There are no signs of softening at all in the premier’s determination to continue to reject any notion of talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization — this despite U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s statements on U.S. television Sunday that such talks could not be ruled out.
The prime minister’s visit to Washington, meanwhile, has sharply intensified the simmering turmoil within the Labor Party, still smarting from its defeats in the Feb. 28 municipal elections.
Given party leader Shimon Peres’ weakened position at the helm of Labor, the widely held wisdom is that he must make a dramatic move upon Shamir’s return if he is to shore up his standing within the party and among the Israeli public.
Peres has said he will produce his own peace plan if Shamir comes back empty-handed, as the vice premier plainly expects his Likud rival to do.
Elements of that plan, leaked to the news media, speak of creating some sort of Palestinian entity in the territories. Such a proposal would represent a fundamental break from Labor’s longstanding belief that a permanent solution must be struck with Jordan.
Peres has refused to confirm the leaks. But he has said publicly that Likud obduracy during the previous government led to the effective disappearance of a Jordanian option. Peres tried in vain during that time to persuade Likud to accept the concept of an international conference, with joint Jordanian-Palestinian representation.
RABIN AGAINST ENDING GOVERNMENT
By holding out the prospect of a Peres plan soon, the vice premier and his aides are in effect foreshadowing the dissolution of the present unity government, analysts say.
Some Labor officials would relish such a scenario. Party doves, led by former Secretary-General Uzi Baram, opposed the reconstitution of the unity government under Shamir, with Likud’s Moshe Arens as foreign minister.
A Cabinet crisis, moreover, would presumably galvanize the party around its present leader, thereby staving off the challenges to Peres’ leadership, his aides reason.
It is perhaps for those same reasons that some key figures in the party, most notable among them Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, are becoming less and less enthusiastic over this scenario.
Rabin let it be known this past weekend that he regards the leaked elements of the purported Peres plan as an unacceptable deviation from party policy as endorsed by the last party convention.
Rabin maintains that his own plan — for elections in the territories of representatives who can enter into negotiations with Israel — is both within the parameters of Labor doctrine and within the agreed gambit of the unity government’s policy guidelines.
Rabin and Labor hawks are anxious not to split the unity government at this time.
Their efforts are focused on persuading Shamir and Arens to endorse the idea of leadership elections for the Palestinians as the cornerstone of a program that would hopefully pacify or at least moderate the intifada, and open the way to negotiations for at least an interim settlement.
In the Peres camp, however, the prevailing view is that things have gone too far by now to hope that local elections can somehow drive a wedge between indigenous Palestinians and the PLO leadership abroad.