Envoy Says New Likud Conditions Not Binding on Israeli Government

Both Likud and Labor will try to “reach an understanding” on Israel’s peace initiative in the next few weeks in order to preserve the national unity government coalition, Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arad predicted Thursday.

One of the options being considered is a vote in the Cabinet reaffirming its May 14 approval of the peace initiative, Arad told reporters at the National Press Club.

The heart of the four-point initiative is a proposal for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in which Palestinians would choose representatives for negotiations with Israel on self-rule and eventually the final status of the territories.

The May 14 Cabinet decision is “the only binding decision” of the Israeli government, Arab said. He said the decision by the Likud Central Committee to add conditions to this proposal is “binding upon Likud members,” but not the government.

The Labor Party leadership has recommended to the party’s Central Committee that it leave the coalition over the Likud action, although a final decision has been postponed for several weeks.

Arad said the peace plan was worked out in hard bargaining that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens of Likud conducted with Finance Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Labor.

He said he believes all four of Israel’s top leaders want to preserve the plan.

The ambassador said that the Bush administration wants a clarification of the Israeli position in the wake of the Likud decision. He said it is for this reason that the State Department is sending a high-level mission to Israel next week.

At the same time, Arad said, the Israeli government has made clear to the United States that the May 14 decision is the only one binding on Israel.

‘U.S. POLICY IS SET’

The administration appears to accept this position, at least publicly. John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, told a congressional panel Wednesday that the United States views the May 14 decision as the only “operative and legally binding basis for the Israeli government to proceed.”

In Paris, President Bush was quoted Thursday as saying the United States would not change its support for Palestinian elections because of various moves by political parties in Israel. “The U.S. policy is set,” he said.

Arad rejected the view that the Likud demands have hurt the chances of getting Palestinians to accept the election plan.

He noted that since Israel outlined its peace initiative to the United States in April, not one Arab or Palestinian leader “has stepped forward to welcome the concept of election, or even to open a dialogue on the basis of how they might be conducted.”

“So it is sheer hypocrisy for Yasir Arafat and his aides, Abu Iyad and Abu Sharif, now to say that the resolution adopted last week by the Likud party has ‘torpedoed’ the possibility of free and democratic elections — which the PLO had in any case never accepted,” Arad said.

The ambassador said the PLO wants to impose its leadership on the Palestinians in the territories, as well as a settlement that would include a Palestinian state as a “first stage” to the destruction of Israel.

MODALITIES TO BE SETTLED LATER

PLO terrorism against Arabs in the territories has increased since the initiative was proposed, Arad said. Half of the Palestinians Killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the last three months were murdered by other Arabs.

Urging the Palestinians and Arab nations to negotiate with Israel, Arad stressed that both sides would emerge from negotiations with positions different from the ones they carried to the peace table.

Likud is bringing several new conditions to the peace table: that proposed Palestinian elections not be held until the Palestinian uprising ends, that Arab residents of East Jerusalem be barred from participating in the elections, that Israel never agree to withdraw from additional territory and that Jewish settlement of the West Bank and Gaza Strip be allowed to continue.

But questioned on these conditions, Arad maintained that the modalities of the proposed elections, including who can participate, can be negotiated once the Palestinians agree to the election.

He said elections cannot be held if candidates are being intimidated by violence and assassination.

Arad said Palestinians running in the election can support the PLO or even be associated with it, but they should not be the only list. Those opposed to the PLO should also be allowed to run.

“I’m really puzzled as to how many Americans are willing to accept that, for the Palestinians, less-than-free elections is also good,” he said.

“We don’t accept this for Israelis, we don’t accept it for the Israeli Palestinians. I don’t see why we should accept it for when it comes to people under Israeli control as a result of a war, a war of aggression against Israel.”

As for the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they are neither illegal nor an impediment to the peace process, Arad said.

“No one in Israel envision a solution where Jews will not be permitted to live in areas, even if those areas are not under Israeli sovereignty,” he said.

NEXT STORY