JERUSALEM (Oct. 27)
As Israel’s Cabinet gave its marching orders to the 14-member delegation that will represent the Jewish state at the peace conference in Madrid, Israeli officials continued to express annoyance about an irritant that could booby-trap the gathering.
They are angry about a statement made last week by one of the official Palestinian delegates, Saeb Erekat, who declared that he and his colleagues were chosen by and represent the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel absolutely refuses to negotiate with the PLO and has been assured by the United States that it will not have to.
In Washington, Secretary of State James Baker said Sunday, on the ABC News television program “This Week With David Brinkley,” that he was “disturbed” by the remark, which was “outside the standards” set for the conference.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, appearing on the same program, called Erekat’s remarks an attempt by the PLO “to throw a monkey wrench” into the talks.
And Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who appeared on Cable News Network’s “Newsmakers Sunday” program, reiterated that if a Palestinian delegate comes with “instructions from the PLO, we will not sit with him.”
But none of the three would say what would happen if Erekat shows up at the conference.
Haider Abdel-Shafi, who officially heads the Palestinian delegation, told the ABC program that Erekat’s statement may have been “a little provocative.” He said that neither he nor any other member of the delegation is a PLO official.
He added, however, that all Palestinians accept the PLO as their legitimate leaders.
LEVY ANGRY AND RESENTFUL
Political pundits in Jerusalem predicted that Shamir would not be able to exercise a veto over any of the Palestinian delegates. In the crunch, he will have to submit to American pressure and not raise any problems with respect to Erekat, they said.
Shamir is heading the Israeli delegation to Madrid and has hand-picked its 14 members. While the team has turned out to be less hard-line than originally predicted, that has hardly mollified Foreign Minister David Levy, who is angry and resentful about the premier’s move to bypass him.
Levy was the government’s most enthusiastic conference advocate and the most optimistic that it would have a beneficial outcome for Israel. Having been arbitrarily deprived of any substantive role, the foreign minister announced he would not go to Madrid under any circumstances.
Levy spoke out unabashedly at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. “The prime minister neutralized me in a manner that does not meet with any norms of proper administration and common responsibility,” he declared.
He charged that Shamir’s personal nomination of the Israeli delegates and heads of the negotiating committees, which Levy first learned about from the radio news, amounted to “a breakup in the hierarchy and the destruction of the Foreign Ministry.”
Dismissing Shamir’s belated selection of Levy supporters to be conference delegates, the foreign minister rejected urgings by colleagues, such as Economics and Planning Minister David Magen, to change his mind and go to Madrid.
Shamir, for his part, made no effort to persuade Levy.
LIST OF ISRAELI DELEGATES
Briefing the Cabinet on preparations for the talks, the premier reiterated that Israel wants the bilateral talks, which are supposed to start four days after the Madrid opening, to be held not in Spain but in a Middle East venue, preferably alternating between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The Cabinet gave Shamir a ringing endorsement and exhorted the Israeli negotiating team not to give up an inch of territory to the Arabs.
In addition to Shamir, the members of the Israeli delegation are Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu; Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein, who will head negotiations with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation; Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; Sara Doron, chairwoman of the Likud Knesset faction; Knesset member Uzi Landau; Dr. Yosef Ben-Aharon, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, who will head negotiations with Syria.
Also Dr. Yosef Hadas, acting director general of the Foreign Ministry; Zalman Shoval, Israel’s ambassador to the United States; reserve Col. Assad Assad, the prime minister’s adviser on Druse affairs; Professor Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel’s ambassador to Spain, who is a member of the opposition Labor Party; Eitan Ben-Tzur, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry for North America; Salai Meridor, political adviser of Defense Minister Arens; and Brig. Gen. Yekutiel Mor, head of the research department at Israel Defense Force intelligence, who will represent the Defense Ministry at the talks.
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)