JERUSALEM (Apr. 2)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir briefed the three most senior government ministers Sunday on his forthcoming trip to Washington, in lieu of a full-scale debate in the Cabinet.
One of the participants, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Labor, later said he was still unclear about what the premier intended to tell his American interlocutors.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party chairman, would only say that the meeting had been “an exchange of views.” And Foreign Minister Moshe Arens of Likud said nothing at all to reporters.
Several ministers, including Yitzhak Moda’i of Shamir’s own Likud bloc, publicly criticized the premier Sunday for refusing to hold a policy debate in the full Cabinet, or at least in the Inner Cabinet, before his departure.
Shamir’s aides have explained this reluctance by saying the premier wanted to avoid premature leaks of the ideas he proposes to submit to President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker.
Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is to accompany Shamir to Washington, expressed confidence Sunday that Israel could persuade Americans of the contradictions and insincerity in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s position.
Netanyahu acknowledged in a radio interview that the PLO had won a public relations victory “during the period of Israel’s elections and the subsequent coalition negotiations.”
He said the task confronting Shamir is difficult, but “the Americans are people who are prepared to listen and be persuaded.”
The premier himself met Sunday night with a group of settlement leaders from the West Bank who sought to “strengthen his hand” in advance of his trip.
RABIN OUTLINES HIS PLAN
In public statements these past few days, the premier repeatedly has asserted that he is not weakening in any way in his refusal to negotiate with the PLO and his rejection of a Palestinian state as a possible solution to the conflict.
In the Labor Party, meanwhile, the more hawkish elements have rallied around Rabin and let it be known that they will not support a bid by Peres to break up the unity coalition after Shamir’s return — unless a real rupture occurs between Jerusalem and Washington.
There have been persistent reports that Peres, supported by dovish forces in the party, is planning such a move on the assumption that the Bush-Shamir talks will end in effective deadlock.
Peres has said he will publicly present his own peace plan once Shamir comes home.
Rabin addressed a meeting of the newly formed “central stream” within Labor Sunday, and reiterated the details of his two-phase peace plan. It involves a broad Palestinian autonomy arrangement for five years, with talks on the final status of the territories beginning toward the close of that period, as envisaged under Camp David.
Rabin has previously indicated he would support elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to evolve an indigenous leadership that would negotiate with Israel. Apparently he envisages such elections as an initial step, leading to autonomy.
Rabin told the Labor hawks that if this plan were realized, there could be Israeli elections after the Palestinian autonomy arrangement had been established. At those elections, the voter would be called upon to confront directly the issue of the final status of the territories, prior to negotiations with the Palestinians.
Among those attending Rabin’s presentation were Knesset member Shlomo Hillel and Micha Harish, the Labor Party secretary-general.
Rabin made it explicitly clear that he supports the continued existence of the unity government. According to political observers, he is backed in this by the various would-be contenders for the Labor leadership crown: Cabinet Ministers Mordechai Gur, Gad Ya’acobi and Moshe Shahal.
None of them relishes the prospect of a coalition crisis with the Likud at this time, since that would automatically strengthen the waning Peres.