Israel Needs to Retain Territories, Likud Politicians Tell U.S. Groups

Israel is going into this week’s Middle East peace conference, and the bilateral negotiations that are to follow, convinced that it must retain the administered territories and has the right to populate them with Jewish settlers.

That position was articulated forcefully by three Likud politicians during separate public appearances in Washington recently.

Israeli Health Minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin and Zalman Shoval, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, all pushed the familiar Likud party line, which rejects the land-for-peace formula.

But they stressed Israel’s security needs rather than ideological imperatives.

Begin, the 48-year-old son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, dwelt on the dangers of a “terrorist state” being created in Israel’s heartland if it relinquished the territories.

The younger Begin, a geologist who entered active politics only three years ago and recently announced his candidacy for prime minister — but only after Yitzhak Shamir retires — held a news conference at the Israeli Embassy here Oct. 22.

Since then, he and Shoval both were named by Shamir to the 14-member Israeli delegation to the Middle East peace conference opening in Madrid on Wednesday.

Begin, regarded as one of the most promising younger generation Likud Knesset members, spoke of the “conflicting premises” on which current U.S. policy toward the territorial issues is based.

Pointing out that Washington opposes an independent Palestinian state, Begin maintained that “he who opposes a terrorist state 20 miles from Tel Aviv must accept, willingly or unwillingly, that Israel should be able to control Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”

‘A JEWISH CHESS GAME’

He expressed cautious optimism that the peace conference could produce a viable solution along the lines that his father worked out at Camp David with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

That means granting autonomy for the Palestinians now, with negotiations on the final status of the territories to begin after three years of self-rule, Begin explained.

Shoval and Olmert argued that Israel needs to have Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Shoval, who spoke two weeks ago at the Jewish National Fund’s National Campaign Leadership Gathering, called the positioning of settlements in the territories a “Jewish chess game” that must ensure a “large-scale civilian Jewish presence” there.

Olmert, addressing the State of Israel Bonds Organization’s National Leadership Conference the same week, referred to Israel’s pre-1967 borders as “indefensible.”

“If anyone believes that this policy will eve be turned down and that Israel will withdraw back to the ’67 lines, I am officially authorized to tell you that it will never happen,” Olmert told the Bonds leaders to rousing applause.

Shoval took a more pragmatic line. The “matter of settlements is a pure political issue” that will “have to be debated” after the start of any regional peace conference, he told JNF.

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