Behind the Headlines the Soviet-israel Talks
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Behind the Headlines the Soviet-israel Talks

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The Soviet initiative to hold consular talks with Israel later this month has already generated intense speculation here in Israel and around the world.

Many pundits purport to see in the Kremlin’s move a sing that the Soviets believe there may be diplomatic movement in this region soon. Moscow, according to this theory, does not want to be left out of the action.

The Soviets have effectively been excluded from Mideast peacemaking ever since the step-by-step diplomacy of then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973-75, which fashioned from the Yom Kippur War standoff, the separation of forces agreements with Egypt and Syria and the interim agreement with Egypt.

The subsequent peace treaty process under the Carter Administration was also brought to fruition with the deliberate exclusion of the Russians.

During and since that period, successive Israeli governments have developed a hostile attitude to the very notion of Soviet involvement, and thus to an international peace conference.

Indeed, it was only in the past year that the Israeli government under Premier Shimon Peres has somewhat revised that stance, and now official policy — at least that enunciated by Peres and Labor — favors international accompaniment for future peace diplomacy.


While the pundits speculate about the motives behind the latest Kremlin move, senior Israeli officials are cautious in their prognostications, preferring to await the results of the talks, scheduled for Helsinki on August 18 and 19.

But Peres has made it clear that the Israeli side to the talks will raise the issue of Soviet Jewry. This can be justified even in the context of strictly consular talks since some of the Soviet Jewish refuseniks have asked for and been awarded Israeli citizenship and are thus — at least from Israel’s standpoint — the legitimate subjects of the activities of a future Israeli consul in Moscow.

Do the Helsinki talks therefore presage an alleviation of emigration restrictions on Soviet Jews? Not necessarily, according to one well-placed observer, former Ambassador to the United Nations, Prof. Yehuda Blum.

Blum, an expert in international law, suggested Tuesday that the Soviets may be intending to establish ties with Israel in order, in part at least, to ward off international pressure on the issue of Soviet Jewry.

Once such ties are in place, Blum noted, the Kremlin would be able to tell Western statesmen to mind their own business: the issue can be dealt with directly between Moscow and Tel Aviv.

It is possibly for this reason that the most famous refusenik of all, Natan (Anatoly) Shcharansky, has seemed distinctly cool about the new Soviet diplomatic overture.

In statements in Jerusalem this week, Shcharansky urged the Israeli government to make any official relations conditional upon tangible improvements in the condition of Soviet Jews in general and refuseniks in particular.

Shcharansky spoke out toughly despite the good news, relayed from Moscow this week, that his mother and brother will be allowed to join him in Israel soon.

He said he believes that this family reunion has been achieved by incessant and public pressure from the West, and that such pressure must be kept up on behalf of the many others, too.

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