JERUSALEM (Sep. 4)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Tuesday that Israel would study a Soviet proposal to convene an international conference on the Middle East, when it received details of the plan.
Shamir, speaking during a visit to a school in Jerusalem, was reacting to reports that Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had broached the idea of such a conference to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis.
But the prime minister rejected the idea of an international conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict, as he has many times in the past. He prefers direct negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbors and local Palestinian representatives.
Shevardnadze later clarified that his suggestion had been no different from the original concept of an international peace conference on the Middle East.
Speaking in the eastern Soviet city of Vladivostok, at an international conference on the Asian-Pacific region, the Soviet foreign minister said an Israeli agreement to participate in such a conference under U.N. auspices “could exert a positive influence on the overall situation in the Middle East and on efforts to defuse the crisis” in the Gulf.
Shevardnadze also implied that the Soviet Union might consider resuming diplomatic ties with Israel if it responded positively to the conference idea.
“The Soviet Union would not leave without response an Israeli move along these lines, and might take a fresh look at the issue of Soviet-Israeli relations,” he said.
Shevardnadze’s advocacy of a Middle East conference at this juncture appeared to echo a proposal made by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the early stages of the Gulf crisis, when he tied a solution to it with resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
Hussein said last month that an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait should be discussed in the context of an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and a pullout of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia.
Shamir has repeatedly emphasized that Israel is not a party to the Gulf crisis.
Speaking Tuesday to leaders of the State of Israel Bonds Organization, he warned that if Iraq succeeded in turning the present crisis into part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the entire Arab world would stand with Iraq. For this reason, he said, it is in Israel’s best interest “not to be involved.”
Shamir also reiterated his standing refusal to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization. He told the Bonds delegates that by siding with Iraq, the PLO had demonstrated it is not a fitting partner for Middle East negotiations.
“All of us are convinced that we have to negotiate with the Palestinians,” the premier said. “And I hope that by common effort and with help of the United States, we will find Palestinians who are willing to negotiate, on the basis of the Camp David agreements and the government’s peace plan of May 1989.”