JERUSALEM (May. 15)
Foreign Minister Moshe Arens will leave Tuesday for the United States and Western Europe, in an effort to promote Israel’s new peace initiative and win support for it form friends and allies.
The plan, the centerpiece of which is Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was approved by the Cabinet on Sunday by an overwhelming 20-6 vote margin.
But it faces fierce opposition from some powerful Likud hard-liners and groups farther to the right, including militant Jewish settlers.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his political allies are bracing for strong resistance, much of it from Likud party faithful. A showdown is expected in internal party forums.
Arens is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Vice President Dan Quayle in Washington this week. He will be the guest of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, during the pro-Israel lobby’s annual policy conference.
He will fly to Brussels later to address the foreign ministers of the 12-nation European Community, which is headquartered in the Belgian capital.
The Israeli plan has been put together in some detail, apparently at the behest of the Bush administration, to which Shamir first presented his proposals when he visited Washington last month.
The plan was drafted by Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Laborite, in close collaboration with Arens, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who heads the Labor Party, and their closest aides.
It is therefore a joint Likud-Labor endeavor, although the coalition partners still differ on details and interpretations. The plan “is founded on the assumption that there is a national consensus for it,” according to a text provided by the government.
BEST ARABS CAN HOPE FOR
Under the plan, Palestinians would elect delegates to represent them in negotiations with Israel for self-rule during a five-year interim period. These representatives would later participate in negotiations on the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to be begun after the third year of self-rule.
Israel promises to negotiate with whomever the Palestinians elect. At the same time, it adamantly refuses to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But the success of the plan hinges on the Palestinians’ willingness to participate in the process.
Justice Minister Dan Meridor, a close confidant of Shamir who helped draft the plan, warned Monday that it is the best deal the Arabs can hope for. He said that if they reject it, Israel will not come up with another one.
The Arabs must be convinced “that they cannot squeeze more from the United States,” Meridor said.
They also must be convinced they cannot achieve more from Israel if they continue their uprising, he told reporters.
Meridor said Israel intends to disseminate the plan among the Palestinians in the territories and urge their acceptance of it; suppress the uprising in the territories, now in its 18th month; and seek foreign support for the plan.
NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE CALLED
The far right, meanwhile, is mobilizing its forces to try to kill the plan by a no-confidence vote in the knesset. The opposition party Tehiya introduced an agenda motion for debate Monday, warning that the plan would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Geula Cohen of Tehiya claimed that the Palestinians elected under the plan would be the leaders of the intifada, as the Palestinians call their uprising. She also claimed that to permit East Jerusalem Arabs to vote would invite the eventual dismemberment of the unified city.
It remains to be seen whether Likud critics of the peace plan will oppose the government in a no-confidence vote.
The Shamir document expresses hope that in addition to settling the Palestinian problem, the initiative will result finally in a peace treaty with Jordan, matching Israel’s 1979 accord with Egypt.
Both Arab countries are invited to participate in the plan. Arens met Monday with the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv, Mohammed Basiouny, to solicit the Cairo government’s support.