JERUSALEM (Aug. 25)
Demands by hard-line Cabinet members to cancel or postpone the Middle East peace conference planned for October were sharply dismissed Sunday by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and rebutted by Foreign Minister David Levy.
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, a Likud hardliner, sided with ministers of the small rightist parties, who argued that last week’s aborted coup in the Soviet Union should give Israel second thoughts about the conference.
President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev decided at their Moscow summit last month that their countries would co-sponsor the conference, aimed at opening direct talks between Israel and the Arab states and Palestinians.
Israel agreed in principle to participate under certain conditions guaranteed by the United States. In weekend interviews, Sharon charged that the Americans were already backing away from their commitment not to include the Palestine Liberation Organization in the peace process.
He called on the government Sunday to “freeze” the process. Shamir replied angrily that there had been no change in the U.S. position.
Rehavam Ze’evi, a minister without portfolio who represents the far right-wing Moledet party, argued that events in the Soviet Union and “the behavior of the Palestinians,” many of whom supported the coup before it collapsed, justified postponement of the peace conference for at least six months.
Minister of Science and Energy Yuval Ne’eman, leader of the rightist Tehiya party, asked, “What is the Soviet Union?”
‘NO ADVANTAGES FOR ISRAEL’
“Will the conference be summoned by President Bush and 15 separatist republics?” Ne’eman asked, referring to the possibility that the independence movement sweeping the republics that comprise the Soviet Union might fracture the country into separate entities.
Ne’eman also maintained Syria does not want peace, based on its refusal to attend a regional conference on water resources scheduled for October in Turkey, because Israel has been invited.
But Foreign Minister Levy, the government’s staunchest supporter of the peace process, objected to proposals to slow or abandon it.
Such demands make no political sense and contain no advantages for Israel, he said. “If we stay out of the process, will our situation improve?” Levy asked.
Political analysts believe the United States and the Soviet Union will continue to cooperate in the aftermath of the failed coup. Moreover, the victory of the moderates many speed up the normalization of relations between Israel and the Soviet Union, they said.
Aliyah officials reported at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting that visa applications by Soviet Jews have soared since the attempted coup. The largest aliyah potential is in the smaller towns, they said.
Transport Minister Moshe Katsav, who was visiting the Soviet Union when the coup occurred on Aug. 19, said he had reached an agreement with the Soviet authorities to establish direct flights to Israel from Moscow, Leningrad, Riga and Kiev.