JERUSALEM (Jun. 16)
Israeli Cabinet ministers are incensed over media reports here that U.S. secretary of State James Baker accused one of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s top aides of trying to undermine the latest U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East.
According to the reports, which have been disputed by some, Baker voiced his complaint last Thursday afternoon at a meeting at the State Department with a delegation of American Jewish leaders. He had met earlier in the day with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy.
Although Baker mentioned no one by name, his criticism seemed to be directed at Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, the reports said.
But in New York, Malcolm Hoenlein, who was present at the meeting with the secretary of state, said Baker “did not attack Yossi Ben-Aharon or anyone else.”
Hoenlein, who is executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization, said Baker praised Shamir, Levy, Defense Minister Moshe Arenas and others for their commitment to the peace process.
But he did indicate that there were “others who did not share the commitment,” Hoenlein reported. He said Baker declined to specify who the “others” were.
It was Ben-Aharon, thought to be more hard-line than Shamir himself, who reportedly angered Baker by reopening a problem the secretary believed he had resolved during his lengthy talks with Shamir in Jerusalem last month.
AWARENESS OF DETAILS QUESTIONED
According to reports reaching here, Ben-Aharon told Baker’s senior aide, Dennis Ross, that Shamir was not always aware of every detail and therefore and understanding reached with him in private was not necessarily Israel’s final, authoritative word.
Baker and other U.S. officials were said to be “aghast and outraged” by that statement. It was said to apply directly to the vexing question of which Palestinians Israel would accept as negotiating partners.
In his June 6 letter to Baker, Shamir demanded virtual veto power for Israel over who would represent the Palestinians at an eventual peace conference. That was an issue Baker had thought Shamir had agreed to set aside until a later stage.
On Sunday, Shamir reacted protectively to Baker’s purported slap at his aide. He made a point of telling the Cabinet that all of his decisions are his alone, are neither made nor influenced by his aides and that he assumes full responsibility for them.
Two hard-line ministers, Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya and Rehavam Ze’evi of Moledet, blasted Baker. Ne’eman complained that the United States is treating Israel “like a protectorate.” According to Ze’evi, Baker “insulted” Shamir.
Education and Culture Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party agreed that Baker’s reported remarks were “an insult to the prime minister.”
Two moderate Likud ministers, Yossi Olmert and Moshe Katsav, also spoke scornfully of Baker.
“Some half-hint about some officials is hardly going to affect the Israel government’s policy on major issues,” Katsav proclaimed.
Likud militant Eliahu Ben-Elissar, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, accused Baker of making Israel “or some people in the entourage of Prime Minister Shamir” scapegoats for the U.S. failure to bring Arab countries to the negotiating table.
NO LINKAGE ON LOAN GUARANTEES
In New York, Hoenlein said that he and Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, doubted that any of the participants at the meeting with Baker would have leaked the story, which created a furor in Jerusalem.
Asked to assess Baker’s outlook toward the peace process at this time, Hoenlein admitted, “It would be wrong to say that he is not frustrated.”
But Baker “indicated that he was committed to continuing it,” Hoenlein added.
He said Baker agreed with the Jewish leaders that Israel’s planned request for $10 billion in loan guarantees for immigrant absorption “should not be linked to the peace process.”
According to participants, Baker said the issue of Jews in Syria and Yemen was on the administration’s agenda. In both countries, Jews are not allowed to freely emigrate and the overall human right situation is bleak.
Jewish leaders attending the meeting, in addition to Hoenlein and Cardin, were Edward Levy, chairman of the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Thomas Dine, its executive director; David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee; Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress; Marvin Lender, national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal; and Max Fisher and George Klein of the National Jewish Coalition, a Jewish Republican group.
(JTA staff writer Aliza Marcus in New York contributed to this report.)
Military sources blamed “hard-core” intifada activists for the attacks.
Assi Mordecai of Moshav Sde Turmot, near Beit Shean, was knifed in the back by an Arab on Sunday but not seriously hurt.
His assailant was chased and caught by other farmers.
Three workers from Thailand were attacked by an Arab in the fields Moshav Hamra in the Jordan Valley.
Two were slightly injured. A military helicopter flew the third to a hospital for treatment of moderate wounds.
Two young Arab women were captured Saturday by border police in Jerusalem after
attacking a Jewish tourist from Italy at the Damascus Gate entrance to the welled Old City.
The victim, Rolo Tizari, 32, had been praying at the Western Wall and was leaving the Old City when he was stabbed, He was hospitalized with moderate wounds.
Military sources said the stabbings were planned to counteract recent evidence that the because of popular disenchantment with it.
Military and civilian courts, meanwhile, imposed stiff penalties on Arabs involved in fatal assaults on Israelis.
Ahmad Fares Barud, a resident of Gaza, was sentenced Sunday to lift imprisonment plus 35 years by Haifa District Court.
Barud was found guilty of murdering 70-year-old Mordechai Reuchman in his furniture shop in Hadera on March 21.
A Nablus military court imposed life sentences on two Arabs convicted of the 1989 murder of Friedrich Rosenfeld of Ariel in the West Bank. An accomplice was sentenced to 20 years.