JERUSALEM (Jan. 5)
Despite a cacophony of international protests, warnings by Arab delegations that they might not show up for the resumption of peace talks in Washington and the possibility of U.N. censure, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Sunday that Israel must deport 12 Palestinian activists, as an action “against those who encourage violence and terror.”
In an hour-long meeting Sunday with Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, Shamir defended the deportation order, which was issued by Defense Minister Moshe Arens last Thursday, a day after the murder of a Jewish settler in the Gaza Strip.
O’Connor, who has traveled here to feel out the possibility of establishing Vatican ties with Israel, told reporters that when he asked about the deportations, he received Shamir’s interpretation and had not pursued the matter further.
On Saturday night, Shamir gave the same explanation to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who placed a rare telephone call to the Israeli premier to counsel him against the deportations.
The Egyptian leader said he was not “pressuring” the Israeli premier but advising him to avoid placing obstacles in the path of the peace process.
Shamir pointed out in the telephone conversation that the 12 could appeal to the Israeli courts against their deportation. But the Israeli courts have rarely, if ever, overturned an expulsion order.
On Sunday, Mubarak received Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat in Cairo. It was the first meeting between the two since the Persian Gulf War, when they took opposing sides.
SECURITY COUNCIL DEBATE REQUESTED
According to initial reports, they discussed Arab and world reactions to the Israeli decision. But Mubarak made a point of urging the Palestinian leader not to derail the peace talks, scheduled to resume Tuesday, because of the Israeli move.
Arafat said at a news conference Sunday that the Palestinians had not yet decided whether to show up for the talks.
Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have put off the departures of their delegations to Washington.
On Sunday night, the Israeli negotiators were preparing to depart on schedule, reversing the scenario that took place last month, when it was the Israelis who put off their arrivals because of disagreement over the Washington venue.
The assessment here in Jerusalem was that the talks would get under way following a U.N. Security Council debate of the deportation orders.
The request for a debate on the floor of the Security Council is being presented by the nonaligned nations, at the behest of the PLO. So far, no draft resolution has been released.
But if an anti-Israel resolution is introduced, sources say Israel cannot rely on the United States to veto it.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department strongly condemned Israel for the decision to deport the Palestinians. At a briefing Friday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We have urged Israel at the highest levels to reconsider and to rescind this decision.”
He said the opposition was based on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the conduct of occupying powers.
ANOTHER THREAT TO COALITION
At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, the decision to deport the 12 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip was supported by Likud minister But it was criticized by the ministers of the far right Moledet and Tehiya parties as “too little, too late.”
These two parties also raised the political temperature by issuing another public threat to Shamir: that they would quit his coalition the moment the subject of autonomy for the Palestinians was discussed by the Cabinet, let alone during the peace talks.
The Inner Cabinet is due to hold such as discussion Wednesday, and the negotiators going to Washington are reportedly empowered to propose autonomy, within the framework of the Camp David accords, to which the government is formally committed.
“If it happens, it will happen this week,” said Moledet’s minister without portfolio, Rehavam Ze’evi.
Without the Tehiya and Moledet votes to bolster it, the government would lose its majority in the Knesset.
Meanwhile, after separate meetings with Shamir and President Chaim Herzog, O’Connor told reporters that he could “certainly see a warming” of relations between the Vatican and the Jewish state, though “many things would have to be worked out.”
He described Shamir as “optimistic and realistic” regarding the peace process. “He knows, as we say in our church, that Rome wasn’t built in a day,” O’Connor quipped.