JERUSALEM (Oct. 15)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has rebuffed the American and Egyptian call for Israeli-Palestinian talks in Gairo to discuss Israel’s plan for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Shamir told Ma’ariv, in an interview published Sunday, that the talks should be held in Israel, not in Egypt, as the Egyptians and now the Americans have proposed.
Moreover, he insisted that the talks deal only with the technical procedures of elections.
Israel would send “officials proficient in matters of election technicalities,” not statesmen or politicians, Shamir told the newspaper.
“It is only a pre-planning stage and there is no need to give it the importance of a major international event,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.
Apparently U.S. Secretary of State Baker has different views.
The five-point plan he conveyed to Israel and Egypt on Oct. 8 suggested consultations between those countries and the United States over the composition of the Palestinian delegation that would participate in talks with Israel.
That would be followed by Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo, which Egypt offered to host.
Shamir evidently sought the interview with Ma’ariv to brush aside the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo.
It is the nub of the differences between Likud and its Labor coalition partners, who accept the Egyptian invitation. Likud is also now at odds with the American and Egyptian governments.
PLO EXPECTED TO REJECT U.S. PLAN
The Baker plan was an attempt to salvage Shamir’s own elections idea after the Israeli Cabinet, split along party lines, rejected a 10-point framework for dialogue offered by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
But Likud was unwilling to bear the onus of obstructionism and Shamir reportedly cabled Washington after the Oct. 6 vote to say he did not want the peace initiative to die.
Baker obliged. He speedily proposed that the foreign ministers of Israel and Egypt, Moshe Arens and Esmat Abdel Meguid, meet with him in Washington within two weeks to confer on the plan.
The State Department made clear later, however, that unless Israel and Egypt agreed to the American proposals, there would be no Washington talks.
Shamir has advocated a deliberate, cautious weighing of options.
Likud sources indicated Sunday that Shamir would be greatly relieved of pressure if the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive council, now meeting in Tunis, rejects the American efforts to launch a dialogue, as it is expected to do.
The American efforts were flatly rejected by the unified command of the Palestinian uprising in its Leaflet No. 47, released Sunday. The leaflet said the intifada “rejects America’s suspect role, primarily James Baker’s five points.”
According to the Palestinian activists, the Americans are trying to avoid an international peace conference, which the PLO insists is the only way to achieve peace.
The leaflet called for a general strike in the territories on Oct. 21 and 29 “to reject all conspiracies and assert adherence to the Palestinian peace program.”
Another strike was called for Dec. 9 to mark the end of the second year of the intifada.
PARTIES COURTING RELIGIOUS BLOC
While Palestinian rejectionism may get Likud off the hook with the Americans, Likud is not counting on salvaging its severely buffeted partnership with Labor.
Both parties, in fact, are looking ahead, either to new elections or to the establishment by either one of them of a narrowly based coalition.
In order to form such a government, Likud or Labor would have to rely heavily on support from the four Orthodox parties, representing a bloc of 18 Knesset seats among them.
Key Likud people have been meeting with leaders of the religious bloc to forestall Labor’s advances. But Labor has also been holding discreet talks with the Orthodox.
At the same time, there are signs of cooperation between the two major parties. Foreign Minister Arens of Likud initiated a meeting over the weekend with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Labor’s No. 2 man, to brief him on Israel’s continuing exchanges with the United States.
Rabin complained last week that he and Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, were not being kept up to date on the latest developments.
Some observers believe Arens would like to revive the cooperation that existed between Rabin and Shamir when the Palestinian election plan was hammered out earlier this year. Shamir unveiled the plan on a visit to Washington in April and Rabin was widely credited with being a co-author.