Menu JTA Search

Israeli Cabinet Gives Green Light for Participation in Peace Talks

Israel’s Cabinet on Sunday gave the green light for Israeli participation in the Middle East peace conference being arranged by the United States and Soviet Union.

Meeting at its regular weekly session, the Cabinet approved, by a large majority, the favorable response Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir gave last Thursday to U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who flew here with an invitation extended by Presidents Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev for a peace conference to convene in October.

Shamir agreed to Israeli participation in the conference, but conditioned it on a satisfactory resolution of the problem of who should represent the Palestinians. Israel refuses to negotiate with Palestinians from East Jerusalem or those connected with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Only three Cabinet ministers voted against joining the peace conference: Housing Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud, Science and Energy Minister Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya, and Rehavam Ze’evi of Moledet, a minister without portfolio.

The generally upbeat mood of the meeting was punctuated by sharp exchanges between Shamir and Sharon and Ne’eman’s reiterated threat to quit the government.

Despite conciliatory talks with Shamir last week following his initial threat to bolt the coalition, Ne’eman reaffirmed Sunday that he could not imagine his party remaining in “a government that is negotiating over territorial concessions.”

MOLEDET STAVING IN COALITION

But Ze’evi, who leads Israel’s most extreme right-wing party, made it clear that he is not threatening to secede, at least at this stage. He spoke of his faith in Shamir on a personal basis, although he decried other, unnamed members of Likud, whom he described as “defeatists.”

Sharon bitterly warned that a conference would lead to war. He said he does not oppose negotiations in principle but said Israel’s “amateurish negotiators” had created a bad starting position for Israel.

He accused Shamir and his top ministers of conceding on all issues they had previously said they would fight over.

Shamir brushed aside the criticism as Sharon’s “unbridled lust for power.”

Agreeing with Shamir was the embattled interior minister, Arye Deri of the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas, who accused Sharon of “personal motives.”

An independent member of the Cabinet, Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz, was absent from session and did not convey his vote to the Cabinet secretariat.

Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan of the Tsomet party, often identified with hard-line members of the government, voted with the majority. He said that being certain the Arabs continue to hate Israel as before, he wants Israel “to go to the conference and tell them so to their faces.”

On Sunday evening, the major opposition parties — Labor, the Center-Shinui Movement and the Citizens Rights. Movement — congratulated the government and announced they would ask for a special Knesset session during the recess, so they could register their approval of the government’s decision to participate in a conference.

Their bid underscored their determination to shore up from the left Shamir’s governing majority in case he should be abandoned by opponents on the right.

Religion Minister Avner Shaki of the National Religious Party told reporters the government’s decision was “historic,” a complement to the decision by Syrian President Hafez Assad to negotiate directly with Israel.

U.S. PLEDGE ON U.N. RESOLUTION

As the ministers filed into the Knesset building, each was handed a letter from the Golan Settlement Committee, a group comprising all elected Golan Heights authorities. The letter asked for their support.

Members of the group stood in a silent vigil outside the Knesset during the session, stressing their support for peace and negotiations with Syria, but not at the expense of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan.

Shamir opened the proceedings by reading a prepared statement, in which he recapitulated the government’s Basic Policy Platform, drawn up in June at the creation of the coalition government.

He said Israel’s discussions with Baker had conformed completely with that document.

The prime minister explained that Israel had consented to the participation of a silent U.N. observer — an earlier sticking point — in exchange for a promised U.S. effort to call for revocation, at the next session of the General Assembly, of its 1975 resolution denigrating Zionism as a form of racism.

He also emphasized that Israel’s agreement to any reconvening of the peace conference plenary rests on the explicit agreement of all parties, including Israel, for each such session.

Shamir cautioned against euphoria, saying the prospects are for long and hard negotiations, filled with pitfalls and dangers.

But Foreign Minister David Levy summed up the positive feelings by saying, “It is not that Israel is saying ‘yes’ to Baker. It is that Baker has said ‘yes’ to Israel.”

NEXT STORY