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News Analysis: Shamir Not Looking for Showdown, but is Dissatisfied with U.S. Policy

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir anticipates a warm and enthusiastic welcome from the leaders of American Jewry during his visit to the United States this week, a key government official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the eve of the premier’s departure.

The official made a point of stressing that “if anyone in Washington is thinking” of putting down Shamir or clashing head-on with him, “this will achieve precisely the reverse result — his standing at home will be strengthened.”

The premier will meet with President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker on Wednesday, and with congressional leaders on Thursday. Later that day, he is to address the 58th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, meeting this year in Cincinnati.

Shamir himself, in interviews with the Israeli news media, said he does not want or anticipate a confrontation with the Bush administration.

But he has conceded that differences could well surface over the ongoing U.S. effort to bring Israeli and Palestinian representatives together for a dialogue in Cairo.

Israel has announced its agreement to Secretary of State James Baker’s five-point proposal for convening such a dialogue, but is insisting on a series of U.S. assurances to accompany that agreement.

Officials in Washington have made it clear they will not accede to all of Israel’s requested assurances. At the same time, the secretary is under pressure to offer parallel assurances to the Egyptians and Palestinians.

SEVERAL GRLEVANCES CLTED

The key government official, briefing JTA, aired a series of grievances that he said the Israeli government holds regarding the Bush administration’s diplomacy in the Middle East.

Chief among these is a perceived “trend by the U.S. administration toward a position of evenhandedness between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“This is intolerable: to treat Israel, a longtime ally, and the PLO as though they were equal in U.S. thinking,” he said.

The official cited several examples of this trend and other complaints about U.S. policy:

Baker’s speech last May to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference in Washington. The secretary called for Israeli acceptance of the land-for-peace principle, just eight days after Shamir had presented the Israeli government peace initiative, providing for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

If the secretary had voiced his strong and unequivocal support for the Israeli initiative at that time, the official mused, the actual implementation of the elections might now be closer at hand than it in fact is.

The U.S. call in August for “all sides” to return hostages. Coming immediately after Israel’s capture of Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, the statement implicitly equated Israel’s capture of the radical Shi’ite chieftain with his group’s kidnapping of innocent Western civilians.

The U.S. reluctance to pressure Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to meet with Shamir, even though his refusal to do so is an ongoing slight to Israel.

On the one hand, the official pointed out, Mubarak keeps proclaiming that Egypt cannot substitute for the Palestinians in negotiations; yet on the other, he insists on substantive Israeli concessions as a precondition for a meeting between him and Shamir. This is both inherently contradictory and demeaning for Israel, the official maintained.

PLO INVOLVEMENT IN TERRORISM

The U.S. failure to abide by its own terms for dialogue with the PLO. The repeated attempts by PLO-linked splinter groups to infiltrate across Israel’s northern border flout the U.S. government’s policy of dealing with the PLO only if it renounces terrorism, the official said.

He pointed out that Yasir Abbed Rabbo, who heads the PLO team meeting with the Americans in Tunisia, is a leader of one of the groups that has been implicated, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Baker’s preoccupation, during current negotiations for the Cairo dialogue, with so-called “bottom-line issues” of the Israeli-Arab dispute, such as “land for peace,” even though he has said there is no need at this time to address them.

“Why doesn’t the U.S. simply endorse the Israeli offer of elections, without adding any other element?” asked the official. “Elections are the rallying call in hot spots around the world.”

Jerusalem is truly hoping, the official said, that the White House meeting Wednesday will “put U.S. Israeli relations back on the alliance level.”

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