JERUSALEM (Jul. 27)
Likud hardliners expressed total opposition Thursday to Yitzhak Shamir’s recent talks with West Bank Palestinian leaders, and met to plot new strategy to scuttle the prime minister’s peace plan.
Cabinet ministers Ariel Sharon, David Levy and Yitzhak Moda’i said they would wait until after the expected visit here next week by U.S. State Department officials before launching a broad public relations campaign within Likud to amend Shamir’s peace initiative.
The trio was rebuffed in its last attempt to restrain the peace plan, when the Cabinet voted Sunday to reaffirm the plan without the constraining language they had forced on Shamir in the Likud Central Committee.
The ministers said they are planning to summon a new meeting of the Central Committee for the purposes of “renewed wide discussion” of the peace plan.
Sharon said he opposed Shamir’s contacts with West Bank leaders, even though he did not know with whom Shamir has been meeting.
“He does not tell me, and does not even keep the Cabinet, or the political Inner Cabinet informed of what he is doing,” Sharon complained to reporters.
Rigorous debate over the reported meetings between Palestinian leaders and Shamir is not limited to the Israeli hard-liners.
It is also a subject of controversy within the Palestinian political community, not excluding the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Local Palestinians are unclear whether or not the recent meetings were sanctioned by the PLO. They are also debating whether the meetings only serve Israel’s purposes by circumventing the PLO or actually represent indirect talks between Israel and the PLO.
On Monday, PLO officials, including Chairman Yasir Arafat, reported that they had endorsed the meetings, even identifying the four Palestinians who were said to have taken part. Shamir denied the claim.
One of the Palestinian participants, El-Bireh attorney Jamil Tarifi, is well known as a supporter of the PLO, but was careful Tuesday not to identify himself with the PLO.
Another Palestinian identified by the PLO was Mahmoud Abu-Zuluf, editor of the East Jerusalem daily Al-Kuds. He denied that he took part in the meetings, joining those who criticized the talks as an end-run around the PLO.
Another key opponent to holding talks with Israeli leaders is Faisal Husseini, the East Jerusalem academic whom Israel has variously denigrated and championed as a Palestinian spokesman.
“This is an attempt by the government of Israel to paint a certain political picture, and to signal to the West — particularly to the U.S. — that it negotiates with residents of the territories in a way which deprives from the PLO its role in the political process,” Husseini told reporters Thursday. Shamir himself keeps insisting that there are no indirect talks being held with the PLO.
During a lengthy interview Wednesday on Israel television, Shamir said talks with the PLO were “impossible,” and added, “If I were the U.S., I would concentrate my efforts on the Arab states rather than the PLO.”
He also dismissed any talk about a change in PLO policy. “The only thing Arafat wants is to see me dead,” Shamir said. Then, turning to his two interviewers, he added, “Arafat wants to see you dead, as well.”