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Israel Speaking with Two Voices on Peace and Policy in Territories

January 25, 1988
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The Israeli government appears to be projecting two conflicting policies on the unrest in the administered territories and the future of the peace process.

The discrepancy stems from the totally divergent views on the peace process held by Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leaders of the Likud bloc and the Labor Party respectively.

Both are pressing their cases on Washington, through emissaries and surrogates, and erupting at each other in vituperative exchanges at the weekly Cabinet meetings.

Shamir is sending Cabinet Secretary Eli Rubinstein, his closest political aide, to Washington on Monday for urgent meetings with Reagan administration officials and congressional leaders to explain Israel’s policies and its recent actions in the administered territories.

Less than two weeks ago, Peres’ close aide, Yossi Beilin, was in Washington for the same purpose.

Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office, announcing Rubinstein’s mission Sunday, linked it to Beilin’s earlier trip. The implication was that Rubinstein would be conveying to Israel’s major ally Shamir’s significantly different views on the issue at hand.

Shamir himself has accepted an invitation to meet President Reagan at the White House on March 16. Yediot Achronot quoted him Sunday as saying that “during my visit to Washington I will propose ways to negotiate on political solutions which appear promising and realistic to me.”

He added, “I will bring political solutions to Washington, excluding an international conference.”

Peres has been campaigning vigorously at home and abroad in favor of an international conference that would serve as the framework for negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

Much to Shamir’s chagrin, the foreign minister appears to have made some headway among Western European leaders for this approach. He also appears to have swayed Washington to the extent that it has dropped its earlier objections to a conference in which the Soviet Union, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, would take part.

This past week Shamir and Peres were at loggerheads over Peres’ latest approaches to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose own ideas about Middle East peace were rejected out of hand by Shamir.

Mubarak, an important player in the current Middle East diplomatic game, is touring Western capitals this week and is due Thursday in Washington, where he has promised to unveil his proposals.

Another close aide to Peres, Avraham Tamir, had secret talks in Paris over the weekend with Mubarak’s political adviser, Osama EI-Baz.

Tamir, who is director general of the Foreign Ministry, left Friday and was due back in Israel on Sunday to brief the foreign minister, presumably on their exchange of views on the peace process and the Mubarak plan.

The Prime Minister’s Office was furious. A spokesman said Tamir’s trip was unauthorized and futile and that the prime minister learned about it only from the news media.

Little has been disclosed publicly about Mubarak’s plan to bring calm to the administered territories. Peres reportedly briefed the Cabinet on it Sunday. According to unofficial reports, the Palestinians would refrain from all acts of violence in the territories for six weeks and Israel, concurrently, would freeze settlement activity.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, called the Egyptian proposals “totally unacceptable” in an army radio interview Sunday night.

Peres and Shamir also crossed verbal swords in the Cabinet Sunday over United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar’s report on the situation in the territories. Peres found it “balanced.” Shamir called it totally unacceptable.

Shamir and Peres met separately over the weekend with Theodore Mann and Henry Siegman, the president and executive director, respectively, of the American Jewish Congress, who headed a delegation of American Jews to Cairo, Amman and Jerusalem this past week. They met with President Mubarak and with King Hussein of Jordan.

Siegman told reporters, “We explained to both Arab leaders that they have to deal with the prime minister, not just with Mr. Peres and the Labor Party. Both said they wanted to keep out of Israeli politics as far as possible,” he reported.

The same wish may apply to visiting West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who had separate meetings with Peres and Shamir and encountered a “deep divide,” according to media reports.

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