JERUSALEM (Apr. 11)
Foreign Minister David Levy told a meeting of Israel’s Inner Cabinet on Thursday that the agreements reached with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker here this week represent “an important political achievement for Israel.”
But if the meeting was any indication, those agreements are also a source of tremendous political friction within the Cabinet between moderate forces and those opposed to any further concessions on Baker’s proposal for a regional peace conference.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir abruptly adjourned the Inner Cabinet session after one of his most hard-line ministers, Ariel Sharon, questioned the wisdom of the commitments Shamir and Levy had made with respect to the type of Palestinian delegation Israel would negotiate with.
Shamir told the senior ministers that he would prefer if the Palestinian delegates to the proposed conference were part of a Jordanian delegation.
Sharon immediately demanded to know of the prime minister, “Is this a matter of preference, or do you oppose a separate Palestinian delegation?”
Before Shamir had a chance to respond, Levy reminded the prime minister that both of them had told Baker they would not oppose a separate Palestinian representation even though they preferred the Palestinians be part of the Jordanian entourage.
Then, as if still uncertain how Shamir would respond, Levy cautioned that “if anyone decides to change his mind, he had better say so immediately to avoid a crisis in our relations with the United States and damage to the State of Israel and the peace process.”
NO DIALOGUE WITH THE PLO
The foreign minister recalled that Israel’s May 1989 peace initiative included a commitment not to oppose a Palestinian delegation. He remarked that without such an agreement there would be no peace process.
The Israeli foreign minister, who seems to be carrying the ball for the Baker plan, briefed his colleagues on its nine salient points.
Negotiations will take place on “two tracks” — one with the Arab states, the other with the Palestinians. There will be no independent Palestinian state. The Palestinian delegation will be composed exclusively of residents of the administered territories.
According to Levy, the Americans did not ask for the inclusion of Palestinians living abroad or in East Jerusalem.
A senior American official told reporters later that the composition of the Palestinian delegation was not discussed during Baker’s visit to Israel.
Levy stressed there would be no dialogue with the Palestine, Liberation Organization by either Israel or the United States.
Levy said Israel and the United States acknowledged they had different interpretations of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. They will be subject to negotiations at a later point in the diplomatic process, he said.
According to Levy, the Soviet Union will reestablish full diplomatic relations with Israel before it serves as co-host with the United States of the regional conference. The Soviets would accept the parameters agreed to by Israel and the United States, Levy said.
Finally, the United States agreed not to deviate from these understandings without agreement from Israel.
According to Levy, Israel has won most of the diplomatic points so far in the renewed peace process, the most important being the idea that the regional conference will serve only as a curtain raiser for direct talks between Israel and the Arab states and parallel negotiations with the Palestinians. That rules out the international conference format, which Israel has rejected.
MEETING WITH JORDANIAN
Baker got Egypt’s cautious approval of the regional conference idea in Cairo on Wednesday. But his major coup was a green light from Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, whom he met while in the Egyptian capital.
He had a much tougher job in Damascus on Thursday trying to convince Hafez Assad to go along. The Syrian president insists on an international peace conference under U.N. auspices and Israel’s prompt withdrawal from all Arab territory it seized in 1967.
The secretary of state was to fly to Geneva on Friday for a noon meeting with the Jordanian foreign minister, Taher al-Masri, at the U.S. Mission there.
According to reports from Geneva, Baker will meet immediately afterward with Shimon Peres, leader of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, who happens to be in Geneva.
There was speculation that Peres and the Jordanian minister also might “accidentally” meet in the mission’s corridors.
(JTA correspondent Tamar Levy in Geneva contributed to this report.)