NEW YORK (Mar. 7)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir criticized his successor, during a meeting with Jewish organizational leaders here last week, for considering a return of the Golan Heights to Syria.
“I am surprised by the position of the present government,” Shamir told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Friday.
For most of his address his first to a New York audience since his electoral defeat last June, the opposition Likud party leader adhered closely to his policy of not criticizing the Israeli government while out of the country.
But responding to a question concerning the Golan Heights, Shamir cited a biography he recently read of former Prime Minister Golda Meir.
In the last year of her life, he said, Meir told her Labor Party that no Israeli government would make a decision to give up the Golan. And if it did make such a decision, Shamir quoted Meir as saying, the Israel people would oppose it and not allow it.
The 77-year-old former premier spoke proudly of the current peace process, launched in Madrid in October 1991.
“It’s a fact, and nobody can make this fact disappear from the annals of our history,” he said, noting that Israel’s other great peace achievement, the Camp David accords with Egypt, was also engineered by a Likud government.
“The Arabs accepted our terms. It was a great achievement. For the first time, the Arabs have accepted to conduct negotiations with Israel, direct negotiations, with no preconditions,” Shamir said.
He warned against weakening the formula, under which the United States presides over the negotiations, supervising the organizational aspects and clearing away obstacles, but not interfering.
And he heatedly denied that his intention in launching the peace process was only to gain time.
“It’s a lie,” he said. “I said only that such negotiations have to take time.”
URGES EXPANSION OF SETTLEMENTS
Shamir did not, however, have any regrets over his policy of settling the administered territories, which caused a conflict with the American government and is cited as leading to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s victory in last summer’s elections.
He urged the continued enlargement of “centers of Jewish population in all parts of the Land of Israel,” which would “change the geography of this land.”
Speaking of the possibility of adding hundreds of thousands more Jews to Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the areas around Jerusalem, Shamir said, “We have to continue. This is not about parties. It’s a national duty.”
But the prime national duty that Shamir stressed, and the event which he claimed as his greatest accomplishment in office, was the continuing immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Acknowledging that the new immigrants provided the margin that led to his defeat, Shamir said, “It’s not important. Let them come, and they will vote as they will.”
Shamir, officially in the United States to speak on behalf of the State of Israel Bonds organization, is also said to be raising money for his Likud party, which has been in debt since the elections.
He plans on stepping down as party leader, and from the Knesset, when his successor is chosen in party primaries, scheduled March 23.
He expressed optimism that Likud will return to power, saying he already sees signs of “soul searching” among the Israeli people.
This optimism was reinforced, he said, by his reception at appearances in Dallas and other places away from New York and Washington.
“I believe there’s no alternative to the policies of the Likud,” he said. “You may accept it or not, but you will one day admit that I am right.”