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Reagan, Shultz Describe Somewhat Different Causes of Unrest

February 26, 1988
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President Reagan and his secretary of state, George Shultz, appeared to disagree slightly Thursday over the cause of the violence by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the last two-and-a-half months.

Reagan asserted during his nationally televised news conference Wednesday that the United States believes the violence is not “home-grown,” but due to outside terrorists.

“We have had intimations that there have been certain people suspected of being terrorists, outsiders coming in, not only with weapons but stirring up and encouraging the trouble in those areas,” Reagan said. He added that this was not “something you can go out and say we absolutely know.”

But the president refused — for reasons of security, he said — to be more specific.

However, Shultz, who arrived in Israel Thursday, was quoted by reporters aboard his plane as stressing that the unrest was a result of Israel’s 20-year occupation of the territories.

He added, however, that he agreed with the president’s appraisal.

When asked for an explanation Thursday, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater maintained that the comments by Reagan and Shultz were “totally consistent as far as we are concerned.”

“The problem here is the indigenous situation — it has to be resolved through political negotiations, but at the same time there have been outside forces,” Fitzwater said.

He said Reagan’s comments were based on intelligence data.

At the State Department, spokesperson Phyllis Oakley said that Shultz had described the cause of the unrest as a “mixed picture.” She explained that Shultz believes that the rioting began because of the “frustration” over the occupation, but “subsequently outside groups have been trying to exploit and gain control of the situation.”


Reagan said Wednesday night that Shultz’s trip to the Middle East was in part because of the unrest in the territories. He said the United States has “spoken” to Israel about the lethal methods used to handle the unrest and also to “Palestinian leadership, because there’s every evidence that these riots are not just spontaneous and home-grown.”

The president said the United States was “pursuing” reports that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat was now willing to accept United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which would in effect recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Reagan stressed that “one of the blocking points” to the United States talking to the PLO was its refusal to recognize Israel. “How do you sit down and try to get into a talk about peace when someone says they have no right to exist? And I’m sure that the secretary of state is apprised of this fact, and we’ll see what we can do there,” Reagan said.

The president said that if peace could be achieved in the Middle East before he leaves office, it “would be one of the greatest achievements of this administration.”

Reagan began his press conference with a statement that stressed his support for the Shultz mission “to see if practical and real progress can be made that provides a pathway to a comprehensive settlement” in the Mideast.

“It’s time for all parties to rid themselves of old ideas and stances that cannot work and to begin a serious process of negotiation and reconciliation,” the president said.

“Any process that is undertaken must meet Israel’s security needs and satisfy the legitimate rights of the Palestinians,” he added.

Asked why the United States does not demand an end to the Israeli occupation, Reagan replied, “I don’t think it’s up to us to dictate the settlement in the Middle East.”

Reagan said the United States has used its “input” with Israel. But he said Shultz has gone to the Mideast so that “all who are represented in that situation on both sides should come together, when you stop to think that legally a state of war still exists there in the Middle East between the Arab nations and Israel.”

(JTA Washington correspondent Howard Rosenberg contributed to this story.)

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