Prospect of Baker Visit Triggers a Host of Competing Peace Plans

The upcoming visit here of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker has prompted a new rupture in the government’s ranks, following six weeks of unity in the face of a common foe, Saddam Hussein.

Baker’s first visit to Israel, which begins March 11, has prompted a flurry of peace proposals both within the ruling Likud coalition and the opposition Labor Party.

Foreign Minister David Levy, a one-time Likud hard-liner, has argued forcefully that Israel needs to undertake a bold initiative to seek peace with its Arab neighbors. He was due to fly to London on Monday for talks on the peace process.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, on the other hand, believes Israel should stick with its May 1989 peace plan and wait for Israel’s Arab neighbors to agree to recognize Israel and negotiate for peace.

Voices on the right are accusing Levy of readiness to cede the Golan Heights because of his declared willingness to talk to the Syrians without conditions.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Shamir assured Levy that he need not worry about attacks against him so long as he stays within government policy guidelines.

“What do you mean, ‘as long as I keep to government policy guidelines’?” Levy shot back.

On the right, pressure to counter most suggestions of sacrificing anything to the Palestinians came from Housing Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud, Science Minister Yuval Ne’eman of the Tehiya party and Minister-Without-Portfolio Rehavam Ze’evi of Moledet.

Sharon has urged the immediate unilateral annexation by Israel of the sections of the West Bank and Gaza Strip settled by Jews. Ze’evi supports voluntary “transfer” of Arabs out of the territories.

REVIVAL OF JORDANIAN OPTION

But these hard-line positions were countered by a somber warning from Interior Minister Arye Deri of Shas, who said peacemaking topped the Orthodox party’s list of priorities.

Recalling that the previous government, a self-described “national unity” regime, fell in March 1990 precisely over its peace policy, he warned that no government has the “right to exist” if it does not strive for peace.

On the left of Labor, there have been calls to the United States to offer Israel a formal defense treaty in return for its withdrawal from the territories. Variations on this theme have been made by the Citizens Rights Movement, Shinui and Mapam.

Within the Labor Party Executive, discussion began Sunday on a gamut of peace proposals aired in the last few days. There was even an open call for a Palestinian state within the confines of acceptable security conditions.

But a proposal made by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres did not go as far as that. He called for revival of the “Jordanian option,” in which a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team would choose a government for the West Bank.

Sources close to Peres say there has been a series of signals from Amman in recent days indicating that King Hussein would now like to re-enter the peace process.

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