Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir arrived here for a two-day official visit Monday amid extraordinary security measures at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, near Rome.
He is the first prime minister of Israel to visit Italy since Shimon Peres came here in that capacity in 1985, and the first to arrive while his country is under severe criticism for taking harsh measures to quell Palestinian rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that has continued virtually unabated since Dec. 9.
Shamir also is strongly at odds with Italian government leaders and majority public opinion in Italy over the next moves in the Middle East peace process. Italy is one of the main proponents of an international conference for Middle East peace and the country supports Palestinian demands for a homeland.
Shamir made clear before his departure from Tel Aviv earlier in the day that he is unalterably opposed to both. He also has rejected the principle of exchanging land for peace, which some believe to be the basis of the latest proposals worked out by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz.
On Saturday, two days before Shamir’s arrival, some 50,000 people marched through Rome in a demonstration for Palestinian rights.
SHARPSHOOTERS AND HELICOPTERS
Sharpshooters were stationed on rooftops inside and around the airport when the Israeli leader arrived. Armored cars guarded the runway and two police helicopters hovered overhead as Shamir descended from his El Al plane for official greeting ceremonies. Special security units augmented by police dogs stood guard.
In a television interview shortly after he landed, Shamir reiterated his doubts about the American plan, saying no one can make Israel do what it does not want to do.
At Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, only a few hours before, Shamir told reporters “I will meet (Shultz) on the basis of our friendly relations of very long standing, and of course we will exchange views on all issues of interest to both our countries.”
Shamir also told Israeli reporters that the unrest in the administered territories would be on the agenda of his talks with Italian leaders. He admitted that “there has been criticism, but we must cope with this, and explain our position to the Europeans.”
Shamir denied emphatically that Italian Jewish leaders were angry with Israel and were refusing to meet with him. “I will explain the situation here (in Israel) to them, and listen to their doubts and questions,” the premier said.
JEWS TO PRESENT PETITION
The Italian Jewish community is, in fact, split on the issue of Israel’s tactics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. About 500 Jews have signed an appeal against repressive policies which they plan to present to Shamir. Jews here also are concerned that anger toward Israel by much of the Italian public would have an anti-Semitic backlash.
Another sensitive issue attending Shamir’s visit is Israel’s uneasy relations with the Vatican. Before his departure from Tel Aviv, Shamir confirmed that he will not request a meeting with Pope John Paul II. The Vatican has not requested a meeting with Shamir.
The premier’s position on this matter was criticized Monday by Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, head of the American Jewish Committee’s international affairs department. Tanenbaum, who has met four times with Pope John Paul, told Israel Radio that Shamir might be seen as deliberately offending the Vatican, which has refused to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
While political leaders visiting Rome may or may not choose to see the pope, the problem is “more one of appearances than reality,” Tanenbaum said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.