Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Sharon was a paradigm of parliamentary protocol in meetings with Jewish groups here last week, demurring when offered the chance to repeat his harsh criticism of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s participation in the current peace initiative.
But he made clear that if it were up to him, there would be no peace talks, in Washington or elsewhere, until several stiff conditions were met.
In talks to Israel Bonds purchasers and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Sharon warned that any approach to peace not based on the twin pillars of democratization and disarmament was doomed to failure.
While criticizing the United States for not making any such demands on Arab participants in the peace process, he also criticized the Arabs for making no real moves towards peace and, implicitly, Israel for opening negotiations in the absence of such moves.
“Any Arab country that wants to join in peace talks should first dismantle terrorist organizations,” he said, mentioning Tunisia, home to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s head-quarters and a prospective participant at the upcoming multilateral talks.
Ridiculing the idea that “the release of murderers from prison” qualifies as a confidence-building measure, he said he would like to see an end to the arms race in the Middle East, which he said has now reached a pace unprecedented in 30 years.
“Syria, while talking about peace, is in the same days unloading new Scud missiles,” he said.
He raised the specter of Arab countries buying the assistance and know-how of nuclear scientists left jobless by the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
“Jews are naive if they believe that because, after an effort, they have managed to shake hands with an Arab member of a delegation, we are already halfway to peace,” he said.
REJECTS QUESTION ABOUT A FREEZE
Asked by a reporter whether there were any circumstances under which he would support a freeze on settlements, Sharon said: “I don’t understand the question, and I’ll tell you why.”
He proceeded to characterize the building of settlements in the administered territories as a 24-year-old policy carried out under both Labor and Likud.
Handed a map and overlays by an aide, he explained to the Conference of Presidents how the geography of the area mandated continued Israeli control over the Samarian high ground.
He did not, however, discuss charges levied by the Israeli press and members of the opposition that the Israeli Housing Ministry, under Sharon’s leadership, is spending as much as $1 billion annually on settlement activity in the administered territories.
Nor did he address his ministry’s reported subsidies to the settlement movement which has begun buying housing in Arab villages within Jerusalem and evicting the current residents.
But the general’s hard-line policy clearly struck a chord among his listeners, one of whom, applauding Sharon’s efforts to ensure that “not one inch of Israel should be Judenrein,” pledged to purchase $1 million of bonds this year.
Sharon said that for the United States to condition the $10 billion in loan guarantees sought by Israel to resettle Soviet immigrants on the freezing of settlement activity would “make Russian Jews hostage” to actions “which we believe will endanger our life there.
“We have to decide, which to endanger: those Jews in Russia or our lives, which will include those Soviet Jews, too.”
“You must come into the picture, much more seriously,” he challenged his audience, both by pushing for the loan guarantees, and by helping Israel Bonds reach its record target of $1 billion.