MADRID (Oct. 29)
Before the Middle East peace conference could even begin here, the Israeli delegation was grumbling that it had been misled and betrayed by the United States.
Their anger was aroused by the announcement that the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Haider Abdel-Shafi of the Gaza Strip, would be given 45 minutes for his opening address, the same amount of time allotted to the representatives of Jordan, Israel and other sovereign states.
To the Israelis, that was a violation of an American promise that the 14 Palestinian representatives would be treated as part of the Jordanian delegation, not a treated as part of the Jordanian delegation, not a separate entity.
Before leaving for Spain on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir branded the Palestinian team “false emissaries.”
The prime minister, who is heading the Israeli delegation, made clear at a meeting here Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that Israel would not accept any more “surprises.”
Shamir also went to see Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who is co-hosting the conference with President Bush. At a joint news conference with President Bush. At a joint news conference Tuesday, the two superpower leaders urged all sides to be constructive in the quest for a peace settlement.
But before the peace talks could begin, there was already a definite feeling among the Israelis that the United States had departed from its role as “honest broker” and was tilting toward the Arabs.
‘QUEST FOR PEACE IS UNRELENTING’
Shamir insisted nevertheless that Israel would not be deflected from its pursuit of peace.
“We hope that here in Madrid will begin a process to realize our greatest aspiration,” he told reporters on his arrival.
“We do not wish to wait any longer for peace, and truly plead, as if our counterparts have come here in the same spirit, our years of waiting will come to an end,” he said.
Shamir stifled speculation that Israel might abandon the conference because of the terrorist ambush of a bus in the West Bank on Monday, in which two Jewish settlers were killed and five wounded.
“Some might have expected that in the face of this terror, Israel would not attend the conference. But despite this violence, our quest for peace is unrelenting,” he declared.
In contrast, his remarks at Ben-Gurion Airport before leaving for Spain bristled with contempt for the Palestinians, including those his delegation will be called on to negotiate with.
Referring to the bus ambush, Shamir said. “All of the Jewish people and the entire world heard what happened yesterday and understood the true meaning of the bearers of olive branches for the Palestinian murderers.”
“Israel, which is going to work to achieve peace, will know how to use all its force to hit the terrorist murderers and their dispatchers,” he warned.
Asked what he would do if the Palestinians at Madrid turned out to be a separate delegation, Shamir said, “All of them are false emissaries resulting from a tendency to cultivate a negative element in the region.”
But, he added, “it will not affect our position or our status.”
In contrast to the Syrian and other Arab delegations who shied away from the news media here, at least one member of the Israeli delegation sought out reporters.
Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a Likud Knesset member, stressed that Shamir did not come to Madrid to swap territories for peace.
SHAMIR REJECTS PRECONDITIONS
Shamir was explicit on the equally delicate issue of freezing Jewish settlement activity in the administered territories while the peace talks are under way.
Asked before leaving Tel Aviv what Israel would do if the Palestinians offered to end the intifada in exchange for a settlement freeze, Shamir replied: “No one suggested that to us, because they probably already know what our position will be: Our response would be negative.”
Asked if Israel would make any kind of conciliatory gesture in Madrid, the prime minister responded: “I cannot say in advance what we will directed at us.
“I can only say that we will not accept any preconditions,” he added.
The delegates will sit at a T-shaped table; Israel, between Egypt and Lebanon, will face the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
The United States and Soviet Union will sit at the top of the T on both sides of the podium.
Security is tight, with nothing left to chance. Madrid’s 12,000-strong police force has been beefed up by the Civil Guard. Armed police were visible Tuesday all over the capital, but concentrated at the most sensitive locations.