JERUSALEM (May. 5)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has voiced concern that Israel’s negotiating stance in the Washington peace talks is being undermined by statements made at home by some of his more dovish Cabinet ministers.
Speaking on Wednesday at a special Cabinet session devoted to the peace process, Rabin did not name any specific ministers. But his comments were interpreted as referring to his longtime rival, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, among others.
At an earlier Cabinet meeting Sunday, Peres spoke forcefully in favor of a bold Israeli approach to peacemaking, saying that the weeks ahead are “crucial.”
Reports said Peres spoke in favor of full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria and also proposed that Israel seriously consider whether or not to establish for the first time direct contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Peres later denied both reports.
The increasingly open debate among Cabinet ministers about the peace process came as the negotiations in Washington reached the end of their second week. Officials in Washington and Arab capitals confirmed Wednesday that the Arab parties had agreed to extend the current round of talks into a third week.
Rabin’s plea to his ministers did not put an end to the dovish pronouncements by the left wing of his party and Cabinet.
Tourism Minister Uzi Baram, a former secretary-general of Rabin’s Labor Party, pointedly praised the PLO’s role in getting the long-stalled peace talks back on track in Washington. His remarks were seen as implying that Israel should hold direct talks with the Tunis-based PLO.
In comments to reporters after Wednesday’s meeting, Baram said he favors a total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in return for full peace with Syria, along the lines of the peace with Egypt, in which all of Sinai was returned.
At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, another important Labor figure, Police Minister Moshe Shahal, also spoke openly of a full peace for full withdrawal scenario on the Golan Heights.
But Rabin’s more cautious positions have been backed by others in his party, such as Economic Development Minister Shimon Shetreet and by one of Labor’s key coalition partners, the Shas party.
Interior Minister Arye Deri, who heads the Orthodox Sephardic party, said Wednesday that the ministers in Jerusalem, by their public utterances, were pulling the rug from under the negotiating team in Washington, which had come to the talks under careful instructions from Rabin.
The result was that Israel was conducting the negotiations “shlemiel-like.”
If the ministers could not contain themselves, Deri advised, there should be no further Cabinet debate on the peace process, and Rabin should run the negotiations alone.
Deri also said Shas would demand a referendum or new elections before any agreement were signed regarding the Golan, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
It was not clear whether Deri’s statement referred only to agreements involving territorial concession or also to the envisioned interim Palestinian autonomy agreement.
Shetreet, in remarks to reporters, held fast to the traditional Labor Party line of supporting territorial compromise on the Golan Heights, but not a full withdrawal to the 1967 pre-war borders.
Shetreet, a professor of law at the Hebrew University, said that position is consistent with the true meaning of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which lies at the basis of the peace negotiations.