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Shamir Says He’s Ready to Allow Negotiators to Consult with PLO

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir says he has no objection to Palestinian negotiators consulting with the Palestine Liberation Organization during the course of peace talks with Israel, as long as the PLO does not try to “run the whole thing.” Shamir, who has staunchly opposed any PLO role in the peace process, made the comment in a wide-ranging weekend interview with Yoel Markus, veteran columnist of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. His statement appeared to indicate that while the Likud-led government continues to oppose any PLO involvement in peace negotiations, it has come to realize that any Palestinian who participates in peace talks with Israel is likely to consult with the PLO leadership. In another sign of movement in Likud’s stance on the peace process, a leading member of the party indicated Monday that he would be prepared to support the idea of an international peace conference under U.N. auspices, which Likud until now has strenuously opposed.

Knesset member Michael Kleiner, in fact, argued in an army radio interview that an international conference would be preferable to the negotiating scenario outlined in Shamir’s May 1988 peace plan,

The plan calls for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to elect representatives who would negotiate with Israel on limited self-rule and eventually the final status of the territories.

Kleiner maintained that elections in the territories would produce representatives backed by the PLO, who would insist on the creation of a Palestinian state. He contended that an international peace conference would be a safer alternative.

CONCERNED ABOUT RELATIONS WITH U.S

Likud is opposed to an international peace conference, long backed by the Arab states and the European Community, because it fears that Israel would be outnumbered by hostile states, including China and the Soviet Union, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

But Kleiner argued Monday that the Soviet Union is not the threat to Israel it once was and could actually play a constructive role in encouraging Arab countries to make peace with Israel.

An international conference, he said, would be in line with Israel’s policy that a solution to the Palestinian problem should be part of an overall peace settlement with Israel’s Arab neighbors.

Once Israel achieved peace with the Arab states, it would be much more forthcoming toward the Palestinians, he said. While he refused to say whether Israel would be prepared at that point to make territorial concessions in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, Kleiner hinted that Syria might win some concessions on the Golan Heights.

In his interview with Ha’aretz, Shamir said he was “worried about the state of relations with the United States.”

He also said he was concerned about the “erosion” of support for Israel in the United States. He cited the powerful Arab lobby and the “hostile media” as forces molding American public opinion on the Middle East.

The prime minister referred to “an impression that certain elements” in the Bush administration “don’t like us.” He added, “Their threatening tone is not helpful.”

“Speeches and statements against us are counterproductive,” he said. “The State of Israel can hardly act against its perception of its own interests.”

SIDESTEPS QUESTIONS ON SETTLEMENTS

Regarding U.S. proposals to advance the peace process, Shamir contended that allowing East Jerusalem residents and Palestinians deported from the territories to participate in negotiations with Israel would allow the PLO to “run” such discussions.

But in a recent letter to President Bush, the prime minister expressed his readiness to work out an acceptable Palestinian delegation on a “name-by-name” basis.

Talks between Israel and the United States are expected to move into high gear when Secretary of State James Baker meets with Foreign Minister David Levy, a meeting now believed to be planned for early August, possibly in Washington.

Baker had asked to meet with Levy this week in Paris, but Levy’s doctors, treating him following a mild heart attack, advised him not to travel yet.

In the interview with Markus, Shamir sidestepped questions about building new settlements in the administered territories, pointing out that the new government’s top priority now is immigrant absorption.

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