U.S. Israeli Ties Further Strained over Proposal to Send in U.N. Team

Prime Minister-designate Yitzhak Shamir stated categorically Thursday night that Israel would not accept or cooperate with any Security Council resolution to send U.N. observers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A resolution to that effect was expected to be discussed Friday at a special session of the Security Council in Geneva. The council is convening there so that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat can participate in the debate, which is expected to continue next week in New York.

Israel was badly shaken when Secretary of State James Baker told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday that the United States was prepared to discuss the dispatch of U.N. observers to the Israeli-administered territories.

In an Israel Television interview, Shamir said he hoped all “serious” parties understood that such proposals are counterproductive for the peace process.

Baker’s assertion sent already strained relations between Israel and the Bush administration plummeting to new lows.

Shamir dismissed press reports of personal antipathy toward him by President Bush. The issues are not personal but concern national issue, he declared.

In Washington, State Department spokes- woman Margaret Tutwiler tried to defuse the controversy Thursday by stressing that Baker was not talking about permanent U.N. observers in the territories.

She said he had in mind an observer mission “to check on the situation” and asserted that the United States has always opposed a permanent observer force.

BUSH BLAMES LACK OF GOVERNMENT

President Bush said Thursday that the way to end the violence in the territories is to resume the peace talks. “I will do everything I can to get the talks for peace going,” he said at a White House news conference.

He blamed the lack of progress on the absence of an official government in Jerusalem. “The problem we face right now is almost an interregnum. There is no firm decision-making government in place,” Bush said.

Shamir seemed to share Bush’s concern when he agreed that the situation warranted, in the television interviewer’s words, “a government of national emergency.”

The prime minister-designate added, however, that such a government would have to conform with the present “political possibilities.”

But Israel’s anger over the possibility that the United States would support U.N. intervention in the territories in captured 23 years ago seemed to overshadow the immediate problem of forming a new government.

If such a resolution is raised at the Security Council debate, Israel will expect the United States to veto it, said Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said Israel has yet to be officially informed by the Bush administration of its position–whether it is favorable or neutral toward the idea.

“But our position is clear and has been longstanding and consistent,” he said. “We objected to it in the past, and we have not changed our policy. Israel will certainly expect that the United States not support such a resolution and, in fact, oppose it.”

Other officials here said that the dispatch of U.N. observers to Israel’s sovereignty and that Israel would not permit it, even if the Security Council passed such a resolution.

According to Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, it would encourage Arab extremists and prejudice prospects for peace.

SHARP REBUKE FROM JEWISH GROUPS

Baker also got a sharp rebuke from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group representing 46 national Jewish organization in the United States.

A statement issued Thursday in New York by its chairman, Seymour Reich, charged U.S. readiness to discuss U.N. intervention is “no way to treat an ally.”

According to Reich, it “plays into the hands of Arab hard-liners and thus disserves the cause of peace.”

Baker’s remarks Wednesday received banner headlines in Israeli newspapers. Commentators said the statements reflected a further grave erosion in relations between the two governments.

Israel’s relations with Washington have been sliding since Israel declined to accept an American plan for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue as a prelude to implementing Israel’s own plan for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

INTERNATIONAL STANDING AT A NADIR

Labor Party leader Shimon Peres warned Thursday in a radio interview that Israel’s international standing is at a nadir because of the standstill in the peace process. He said the Western nations felt that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reneged on his own peace plan.

The situation could directly affect Israel’s exports and chances of competing in the European Community, with serious consequences for the economy, Peres warned.

In the midst of the current turmoil, the Soviet Union on Thursday assured Israel that a delegation of Soviet officials scheduled to arrive here over the weekend was not a special fact-finding mission sent in the wake of the recent violence.

The Soviet consular delegation in Tel Aviv advised the Foreign Ministry that the visitors were Middle East experts from the Soviet Academy of Sciences whose trip was arranged several weeks ago.

But a mission due late Thursday from France is more closely linked to recent events.

Bernard Kushner, the French minister for humanitarian aid, is leading a parliamentary group to examine humanitarian needs in the territories. France reportedly rejected an Israeli request to reschedule the visit to a later date.

(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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