JERUSALEM (Jul. 24)
Complications are emerging that could hurt the new opportunity for direct peace talks between Israel and the Arabs, which U.S. Secretary of State James Baker hailed Monday as a historic “breakthrough.”
Opposition to the regional peace conference Baker hopes to convene is strong on the right flank of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s governing coalition. It is convinced any talks with the Arabs would result in Israel yielding territory.
Equally obdurate are the Palestinians, who believe the United States sold them out by agreeing to let Israel veto certain members of the proposed joint Palestinian-Jordanian negotiating team.
At Israel’s, insistence, the United States has reportedly ruled out the participation of Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem or anywhere outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Washington, the State Department on Wednesday would not comment on whether the United States had agreed to such an arrangement. Richard Boucher, the department’s deputy spokesman, would only say that the issue “continues to be under discussion.”
The issue was a major obstacle in previous efforts to arrange talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and it precipitated the collapse of the Labor-Likud unity government in March 1990.
Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat charged Wednesday, in a Radio Monte Carlo interview from Tunis, that the U.S. peace plan “ignores the Palestinian people’s rights and completely leaves out the question of East Jerusalem.”
TEHIYA MAY LEAVE GOVERNMENT
Faisal Husseini, who led the Palestinian delegation that met with Baker on Sunday, said the exclusion of people from East Jerusalem, where Husseini himself resides, is unacceptable. He intimated the Palestinians would not participate on such terms.
Although Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has not yet given Baker his final reply, the Tehiya party is threatening to quit the coalition.
Its three-member Knesset faction said it would recommend such a step to the party’s Secretariat next week because of an “erosion in the position of the government on issues concerning Eretz Yisrael and our right to this country.”
Geula Cohen, who holds the sub-Cabinet rank of deputy minister, said a regional conference would lead to “disaster.”
She had no doubt Tehiya would quit the coalition, even though Shamir promised it could count on him to defend the case for Eretz Yisrael — meaning Greater Israel.
“But how much can you depend on one person, as devoted as he is to the cause of Eretz Yisrael?” Cohen asked.
Rehavam Ze’evi, a minister without portfolio who heads the extreme right-wing Moledet party, is also talking of quitting. Both Syria and Jordan, which have agreed to direct talks with Israel, are “unfit for marriage,” Ze’evi said Wednesday.
A walkout by the right-wing Tsomet party, headed by Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan, is also anticipated if Shamir agrees to a conference.
If the right bolts, the Likud government would lose the assured support of seven Knesset members, a possibility it is striving to avert. But a no-confidence motion to bring down the government is impossible before October, since the Knesset has recessed until then.
Foreign Minister David Levy and Justice Minister Dan Meridor, among others are stressing U.S. agreement to Israeli terms.
Levy told the Knesset on Wednesday that Israel will not be required to stop building settlements as a precondition for peace talks. He said the issue had been raised in talks with the Americans, but in the end no such demand was made.
Levy added that the government does not intend to change its settlement policy in the territories and would stand steadfastly against any attempt to link a suspension of settlement-building to lifting the a suspension of settlement-building to lifting the Arab economic boycott of Israel.