Shamir Voices ‘grief’ over U.S. Move in Hard-hitting Speech to the Knesset

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused the United States on Monday of causing Israel “disappointment and grief” by linking the Middle East peace process to the Jewish state’s request for loan guarantees to help resettle immigrants.

Shamir’s fiery speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session seemed to foreshadow further conflicts with Washington if the United States continues to hold Israel’s humanitarian needs hostage to a cessation of settlement activity in the administered territories.

Flatly refusing to consider trading territory for peace, Shamir laid down terms and conditions for Israel’s participation in the proposed peace conference, which suggested to some political observers that he was drawing a blueprint for its inevitable failure.

The packed Knesset session also left no doubt that Israel is sharply polarized on the peace issue and its relations with Washington.

Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party, accused the Likud-led government of adopting “a policy leading to nowhere.”

He charged that Shamir’s dedication to settlements put Israel on a collision course with its most powerful protector and ally. He urged the government to announce a freeze on settlement-building, “not for the Americans or for the Arabs, but for our own sakes.”

With such a move, Israel could achieve the abolition of the Arab League economic boycott “tomorrow morning,” Peres said.

The left-of-center opposition has introduced a motion of no confidence in the government which will now be voted on next week. Political observers believe it will fail to unseat the incumbent coalition of right-wing and religious parties.

PEACE TALKS ‘NOT YET A CERTAINTY’

In his speech, Shamir charged repeatedly that the Bush administration struck at the heart of Zionist aspirations when it demanded a four-month delay before Congress considered Israel’s Sept. 6 request for guarantees covering $10 billion in immigrant resettlement loans it plans to take out over the next five years.

“If the United States understood the sensitivity of aliyah for us and understood the Arabs’ consistent objections to it, they would think again,” the prime minister declared.

He said somberly that he hoped there would be no further delay in granting Israel’s request when the waiting period ends in January.

Shamir played to his right-wing coalition partners when he pointedly observed that the peace conference, which the United States and Soviet Union would like to convene before the end of this month, is “not yet a certainty.”

The far-right factions insist the conference is a “trap” and have threatened to leave the government if Israel attends.

Shamir enumerated a long list of conditions for Israeli participation. Israel has “made it known,” he said, that it would “not support” a motion to reconvene the conference after its first formal session, which the prime minister referred to as a “ceremonial meeting.”

That session is to be followed by separate, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the individual Arab states, and between Israel and Palestinian representatives, who would be members of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

The U.S. position is that the conference plenum can be reconvened after the curtain-raiser if all parties agree. Shamir served notice in his Knesset speech that Israel would never agree.

He said that Israel “hopes and assumes” that the Soviet Union will re-establish full diplomatic relations with it “before the issuance of invitations” to the conference.

He warned there would be “no progress” in the bilateral talks until Israel has assured itself that the Arab side recognizes the Jewish state; strives to reach full peace with it; intends to cease all hostile propaganda after peace is attained; intends to remove “terror bases” from Arab territory; and intends to give Jewish citizens of Arab nations full and equal rights, including emigration.

GOLAN HEIGHTS ‘VITAL’ TO SECURITY

While Israel says it accepts U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as the framework for peace talks, the “bottom line,” in Shamir’s words, is negotiations for a full and lasting peace. All of the other provisions of these resolutions are merely non-binding “guidelines,” he contended.

Shamir said Israel has “solid grounds” for its argument that by returning all of Sinai to Egypt in 1982, it completely satisfied the resolution’s requirement that Israel withdraw from occupied territory.

With respect to the Golan Heights, the main issue of any negotiations with Syria, Shamir observed that Israel applied its law and administration there — tantamount to annexation — in late 1980, “and this situation will continue to guide us.”

He stressed that the Golan is “a vital element of our security.”

Shamir said Israel is ready to negotiate a five-year autonomy period for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in conformity with the 1978 Camp David accords.

“Needless to say,” Jerusalem is “not a subject of negotiation,” he added.

Political observers remarked that the prime minister may already be maneuvering to avoid blame at home and abroad if the peace conference collapses immediately after the opening.

They said Shamir expects culpability to fall on the Syrians, who, he is convinced, will refuse to state categorically at the outset that they are ready for full peace with Israel.

The Likud leader expects the Syrians to offer nothing more than “non-belligerency” status, in which case Israel could not be faulted for refusing to negotiate withdrawal from the Golan.

Political observers said the harshness of the clash between Shamir and Peres during the normally festive opening of the Knesset foreshadows a stormy winter session. The stark political divide here will become increasingly evident as the diplomatic process gathers momentum, they said.

NEXT STORY