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Labor-likud Cabinet Split is Developing on U.S. Enthusiasm over Talks with Hussein

June 3, 1985
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The Reagan Administration’s apparent enthusiasm over its talks with King Hussein of Jordan in Washington last week appears to have produced a cleavage between the Labor and Likud components of the unity coalition government. Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, said at an airport press conference before leaving for visits to Britain, France and Denmark today that “nothing new or positive” had emerged from Hussein’s meetings in Washington. He was also irritated by Secretary of State George Shultz’s statement holding out the prospect that members of the Palestine National Council (PNC) might be included in the Palestinian part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team.

That was “contrary to our position and contrary to America’s own position these past several years on the matter of recognizing and holding talks with the PLO,” Shamir told reporters. The PNC, often referred to as the Palestinian “parliament-in-exile” is regarded by Israelis as nothing more than an arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization, controlled by PLO chief Yasir Arafat. The current view in Washington seems to be that PNC members would be acceptable in the joint negotiating team, provided they are not known members of the PLO.


Premier Shimon Peres has taken a less unequivocal view of the latest developments. As Shamir spoke to reporters at the airport, he was briefing the weekly Cabinet meeting on a letter he had just received from Shultz praising Hussein’s position.

According to Shultz, the Jordanian ruler professed to be prepared to do what no other Arab leader, save the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had done — negotiate with Israel directly on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Shultz noted moreover that Hussein seemed anxious to make progress quickly and that he had the approval of the Palestinians.

Information leaked from today’s Cabinet meeting indicated that Shultz’s letter triggered a sharp dispute between Likud and Labor ministers. Ariel Sharon, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, and Deputy Premier David Levy, the Minister of Housing, “squared off” against Laborite Gad Yaacobi, the Minister of Economic Planning, and Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the Shinui faction which is allied with Labor.


Well placed sources here said the U.S. has not yet presented Israel with the names of any Palestinians–members of the PNC or others — who are prepared to participate in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Until it does, the sources said, Peres will remain deliberately vague with respect to his position on PNC members as possible negotiators because he wants to avoid splitting the Cabinet over what at this point is only a hypothetical scenario.

The sources recalled that when the PNC issue arose during Shultz’s visit to Israel last month, Shamir’s reaction was totally negative while Peres was careful not to slam the door on the possibility raised by Shultz. A Cabinet communique drafted by Peres after Shultz’s visit, spoke of Israel’s opposition to members of organizations which subscribe to the Palestine National Covenant, the PLO charter which states its ultimate aim as the elimination of Israel by armed struggle. But that formulation by Israel was seen by observers to be sufficiently flexible to encourage further efforts by Washington to enlist moderate Palestinians to take part in the peace process. Israeli officials said at the time that if such Palestinians came forward, Israel would consider them on an individual basis as Shultz has proposed, rather than categorize them.


But in his airport remarks today, Shamir flatly rejected any such flexibility. He told reporters that if the U.S. dealt with individual members of the PNC in the context of a Jordanian-Palestinian team, he would refuse to talk to them. He reiterated that the PNC is an integral part of the PLO.

Both Shamir and Peres are on record as opposed to any talks between a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and the U.S. without Israel’s participation. Nevertheless, there are differences of nuance between the Labor and Likud leaders. Peres is understood to be more flexible over the proposition that such an encounter would be preparatory for negotiations with Israel and not negotiations in any sense in itself.

Israeli officials have expressed gratification with Shultz’s apparent disavowal over the weekend of earlier indications that Washington might consider the idea of an international conference in the Middle East, as urged by Hussein. At his press conference Friday, the Secretary of State spoke in negative terms of such an approach. According to Israeli sources, the State Department’s list of six conditions for Soviet involvement in the Middle East peace process (through an international conference) had been tantamount to rejecting Soviet involvement.

The six conditions included the resumption of diplomatic ties with Israel by Moscow and easing up on the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate. Cabinet sources said Shultz’s letter to Peres clarified U.S. fundamental opposition to Soviet participation in the Mideast peace process unless there were first radical changes in Soviet policy.

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