WASHINGTON (Apr. 6)
President Bush has endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s proposal for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to allow the Palestinians to choose representatives for negotiations with Israel.
“I believe it is in Israel’s interest to engage in a serious dialogue with Palestinians,” Bush said after a 65-minute White House meeting with Shamir on Thursday, 45 minutes of which were a private session between the two leaders in the Oval Office.
“The United States believes that elections in the territories can be designed to contribute to a political process of dialogue and negotiations,” the president said.
Both Bush and Shamir made clear that the elections would lead to an interim period of Palestinian self-rule, after which negotiations would be held for a final settlement.
“All proposed options will be examined during these negotiations,” Shamir said, in an apparent signal that Palestinians would be free to propose an independent state.
“I am encouraged by the prime minister’s assurances that all options are open,” Bush responded.
At the same time, both Bush and Shamir reiterated their opposition to a Palestinian state, which Shamir said was “a prescription for war, not peace.”
“We do not support an independent Palestinian state, nor Israeli sovereignty over nor permanent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza,” Bush stressed.
EXTRA MEETING WITH BAKER
Bush and Shamir met later in the afternoon for an unscheduled visit to the National Air and Space Museum. The visit was arranged after Israeli newspapers reported that Shamir was not being treated as warmly as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
After Mubarak met with Bush on Monday, the two went to Baltimore, where Bush threw out the first ball of the baseball season.
Shamir is also the first foreign visitor to stay at Blair House, the official U.S. government guest house across from the White House, since the building underwent repairs six years ago.
Bush announced his support for elections after Shamir had an unscheduled, early morning meeting with Secretary of State James Baker at Blair House. The meeting was called because Baker and Shamir did not have enough time to complete their talks at the State Department Wednesday, an Israeli official explained.
Both Bush and Shamir made clear that the means of holding the elections have not been worked out, and Bush promised to work with Israel and the Palestinians to devise a system.
“We urge Israel and the Palestinians to arrive at a mutually acceptable formula for elections,” the president said.
Mubarak told Bush on Monday that the Palestinians would never accept an election under Israeli control. He indicated that elections could be held under United Nations auspices.
Later Thursday, Shamir rejected any outside supervision of an election in the territories. “We don’t think there is a need for international supervision,” he said, answering questions after a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.
He said Israel has a democratic tradition and “I think we will be able to arrange some common effort to supervise the elections.”
PLAN TO AID REFUGEES
Shamir proposed the elections as part of a four-point program to move the peace process forward.
The plan calls on Egypt, Israel and the United States to expand the Camp David process to include the Palestinians and other Arab states.
It urges the United States and Egypt “to make it clear to the Arab governments that they must abandon their hostility” to Israel, including the Arab economic boycott.
It also proposes that a multinational effort, with substantial Israeli participation, be undertaken “to solve the Arab refugee problem perpetuated by Arab governments while Israel absorbs hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”
He said this would include providing decent housing and improving the living standards of the refugees.
Bush has been urging Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to reduce tensions in the territories in order to create an atmosphere conducive to negotiations.
“Progress will require meaningful steps to reduce tension,” he said Thursday.
“Israel has an obligation to contribute to the process,” he added, “but it cannot be expected to assume the entire burden. Palestinians, the Arab states and other interested parties must demonstrate that they, too, are willing to make peace a reality.”
Bush made a strong appeal for movement in the peace process, noting that the present leaders should follow the example set by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in making peace 10 years ago.
ENEMIES ‘FINDING WAYS TO TALK’
“Throughout the world, old enemies are finding ways to talk to one another and end conflicts in a manner that preserves the basic interests of all concerned,” he said.
He stressed that the Arab-Israeli conflict could be ended through direct negotiations. “Problems do not resolve themselves; leaders acting with courage and vigor solve problems.”
Bush began his remarks by saying that he had given Shamir a message for his government and the people of Israel that “we are friends, strategic partners and allies. Mutual interests bind together the people of the United States and Israel.”
He said he would work toward “maintaining and possibly improving the relationship between our two countries.”
Shamir said Israel and the United States share many things, but “we do not share the neighborhood” in the Middle East, where Israel faces many dangers to its existence.