Aloni Calls for Rubinstein’s Ouster As Lead Negotiator with Palestinians

Education Minister and Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni called on Tuesday for the replacement of Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein as head of Israel’s negotiating team in the bilateral peace talks with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

Aloni charged that Rubinstein was involved, “at the behest of the (Shamir) government, in the deliberate double-crossing of the United States regarding the settlement issue” from 1990 to 1992.

Aloni made her demand on the eve of Rubinstein’s departure for the United States as a senior member of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s entourage. Rabin is scheduled to leave Israel on Thursday night for his talks with President Bush in Maine next week.

Rubinstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he had no comment on Aloni’s statements and that he was barred from commenting because he is “a civil servant.”

Rubinstein, originally a protege of the late Moshe Dayan, served as Cabinet secretary and as head of the negotiating team under the previous, Likud-led, government. He has been asked to stay on in both capacities by Rabin.

His reappointment as Cabinet secretary is for three months, but there have been hints from Rabin that he may stay on beyond that period as head of the negotiating team.

RUBINSTEIN’S PRESENCE WOULD SEND WRONG SIGNAL

On Tuesday, Rubinstein chaired a meeting of chief negotiators — the first meeting in which Professor Itamar Rabinovich, a leading Arabist and rector of Tel Aviv University, took part in his new capacity as head of the team negotiating with the Syrians.

Rabinovich was brought in by the new government this week to replace Yosef Ben-Aharon, a former top aide to Yitzhak Shamir.

Aloni voiced her demand for Rubinstein’s removal during a briefing for Israeli reporters. She said she respected Rubinstein’s intellectual qualities and had no doubt that he “would serve the (new) government with the utmost loyalty.”

But his continued presence as a negotiator was “a psychological fact” that would send the wrong signals to the Palestinians, she said.

Aloni expressed criticism and reservations over various aspects of governmental policy, but said the “real debates” within the government would only be held after Rabin’s return from the United States.

She stressed that her political bloc, Meretz, which is pivotal in the coalition, would “not threaten to quit every other day.” But she emphasized that it would strongly state its positions and fight for them.

Among Meretz’s positions, she said, are the following: including Faisal Husseini and other East Jerusalemites in the Palestinian negotiating team; including diaspora Palestinians who may be members of Palestine Liberation Organization groups, in the multilateral talks; and supporting the Palestinians’ right to conduct direct negotiations with international bodies such as the European Community.

The more mainstream Labor Party disagrees with Meretz on all these issues.

In a separate charge, Aloni told reporters that she has strong objections to the methods used by the Israel Defense Force’s undercover units, which have killed some 30 suspected Palestinian terrorists this year. Her objections, she said, were based on “moral” considerations.

She claimed that open-fire directives handed down to young soldiers by their commanders were unclear.

“I feel terrible to know that kids the age of 18 to 19 are those who have to give the verdict and execute, to decide that somebody should be killed, or shot, and to do it,” she said, adding, “It’s wrong.”

Army officials say the undercover units have orders to shoot at a suspect’s legs unless the soldier’s life is in danger.

But human-rights groups charge the units with pursuing a shoot-to-kill policy when targeting Arab suspects.

An undercover soldier died Monday of wounds received in a shootout two days earlier with a Palestinian fugitive in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis. The Palestinian was shot dead during Saturday’s clash.

The incident has renewed the debate over the methods employed by the undercover units, whose members often dress as Arabs when pursuing Palestinian suspects.

“I have a moral problem,” Aloni said of their tactics, adding that she would rather have “more units there and not do it the way it’s done.”

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