Senior Likud Figure Bucks His Party, Calls for Acceptance of Deal with PLO

A senior figure in the opposition Likud bloc has called on his party to accept the government’s autonomy agreement with the Palestinians as well as last week’s non-belligerency pact with Jordan.

Knesset member Moshe Katzav, chairman of the main opposition party’s Knesset faction and a former transportation minister, also warned that if the Likud lost the next election, it would likely cease to exist as a political party.

Katzav’s statement, which was made to the daily newspaper Yediot Achronot and which he repeated in other media interviews on Sunday, triggered controversy within his party.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that if Katzav sought to change the Likud’s policy platform he should bring his proposals before the appropriate party forums.

And Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Sunday reiterating the party’s opposition to the autonomy agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin briefed Netanyahu, Katzav and other top Likud leaders on the Washington Declaration signed with Jordan last week in Washington. The historic agreement officially brought to an end 46 years of hostilities between the two countries.

The Likud leadership has spoken favorably of that agreement, although with certain reservations regarding sections of the declaration granting Jordan special status with regard to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

But until Katzav’s categorical statements this weekend, the Likud’s major spokesmen have maintained, at least in public, a hostile stance towards the agreement with the PLO.

REAPPRAISAL OF LIKUD POLICIES SOUGHT

Katzav has now called for a “reappraisal” by the Likud of its policies on peace and security, including those pertaining to relations with the PLO.

He specifically called on his party to proclaim its readiness to deal with “any Palestinian representation” regarding the full implementation of autonomy as provided for in the declaration of principles signed at the White House last September.

Katzav said his statement was meant to include the PLO and its chairman, Yasser Arafat.

This represents a major divergence from the official Likud line, which still sees Arafat as an unreconstructed terrorist.

Katzav set two conditions for his new position: that implementation of the declaration of principles be carried out without violations by either side, and that a Palestinian state be ruled out.

In that context, Katzav hinted that he would even support his party joining with Labor in a coalition of national unity.

“The Likud has got to come to terms with the irrevocability of the policies undertaken by the Rabin government,” Katzav declared.

He added that the Likud must announce that it is forgoing its previous demand that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip be revoked. Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho following the May 4 signing of the Cairo agreement for implementing Palestinian self-rule in the two areas.

According to Yediot Achronot, there are some senior figures in Likud who, in anticipation of an agreement between Rabin and Syrian President Hafez Assad, are already counseling flexibility on the party’s position regarding the Golan Heights. Damascus has been calling for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan as a precondition for a peace between the two countries.

But these voices have yet to make themselves heard on a public platform in the way Katzav has now done regarding the agreement with the PLO.

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