JERUSALEM (May. 14)
The Israeli Cabinet voted 20-6 Sunday to approve a peace initiative whose centerpiece is negotiations for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Participating in those negotiations would be Palestinian representatives elected in a special referendum in the administered territories.
The plan is based on ideas Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir presented to the Bush administration when he visited Washington last month.
The plan was drafted by Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party, in close coordination with Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party chairman, and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens of Likud.
Rabin described the plan to reporters as “revolutionary.”
Although the plan was overwhelmingly approved by the Likud-Labor Cabinet, some of Likud’s most powerful ministers oppose it.
Ariel Sharon, the minister of industry and trade, condemned the scheme as a clear danger to Israel’s existence and pledged to do everything in his power “to foil this dangerous initiative.”
Sharon plans in the next few days to convene the Herut Central Committee, which he chairs, with the goal of securing a grass-roots vote against the prime minister. Herut is the dominant component of the Likud bloc.
LEVY AND MODA’I OPPOSE PLAN
Sharon was joined in his opposition by Housing Minister David Levy, a Herut powerhouse who also holds the rank of deputy premier, and by Economics and Planning Minister Yitzhak Moda’i, leader of Likud’s Liberal Party wing.
“This isn’t a plan,” Moda’i told reporters. “It’s a surrender to the terror of the intifada and a sellout to the United States.”
The right-wing opposition party Tehiya joined Sharon to condemn the initiative.
Two dovish Laborites, Minister of Science and Development Ezer Weizman and Raphael Edri, a minister without portfolio, were also critical.
Weizman called the plan “dishonest.” He observed that the United States, by holding a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization, is, in practice, conducting indirect negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
So why not hold direct, up-front negotiations? Weizman asked.
Avner Shaki, a National Religious Party minister without portfolio who is allied with the settlers, voted against the plan. But his NRP colleague, Religious Affairs Minister Zevulun Hammer, supported it.
Shaki complained that the government plan failed to include assurances that the elections in the territories would be municipal, not territory-wide, and that Arab residents of East Jerusalem would not be permitted to participate.
These are in fact the most delicate and controversial aspects of the plan, and the government leaders apparently chose to avoid dealing with them at this stage.
The document approved by the Cabinet also reportedly does not deal with the question of international supervision of the elections.
Ehud Olmert, a Likud minister without portfolio close to Shamir, said Sunday evening that the government now would proceed to make a detailed formulation of “such issues as eligibility to vote and to stand for election, conduct election campaigning and so forth.”
The approved document also calls for talks to include the elected representatives of Israel, Jordan and Egypt on a five-year “interim agreement.” Not later than the start of the third year, the same parties would enter into talks on a “permanent solution.”
That language is taken directly from the 1978 Camp David accords.