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Shultz Departs the Middle East with Few Gains, but More Hope

March 2, 1988
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Secretary of State George Shultz admitted before leaving Israel Tuesday morning that he has been less than successful winning support for American peace proposals during his four days of shuttling between Jerusalem and Arab capitals.

But he is not giving up.

“If I had to describe the situation, I would say that no one has signed up to our proposals, but everybody wants us to keep working, so we will keep working,” Shultz told reporters. “We are in the middle of a work process,” he stressed.

The Inner Cabinet, the government’s top-policy-making body, convened immediately after Shultz’s departure, but remained deadlocked over the American plan and the peace process in general.

The five Labor Party and five Likud senior ministers were unable to forge a unified position when they last met on Feb. 24, in advance of Shultz’s arrival, and were not expected to make any progress in the wake of his visit.

According to Israeli observers, Shultz appears to have won over Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to his package approach, while Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Syrian President Hafez Assad remain opposed to it. This left Hussein, in effect, to cast the decisive vote on how to proceed.

The Shultz package has been made known to the public only in barest outline. It calls for an “interim arrangement” — some form of limited autonomy — for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to be followed by an international conference that would open direct talks among the parties concerned to determine the final status of the territories. Shultz has insisted the package must be accepted in its entirety.


Shamir is reported to have told Shultz at their final meeting in Jerusalem Monday night that he is firmly opposed to the accelerated timetable presented by the secretary of state and especially the “interlocking” principle by which talks on the final status of the territories would begin next December regardless of progress or lack of it on the interim arrangements.

While the Americans are proposing that all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council participate in what they are now calling the “international event,” Shamir proposes that only the United States and the Soviet Union take part.

He apparently believes the two superpowers would cancel each other out, leaving Israel to face its Arab adversaries, free from outside pressure. The United States is Israel’s most important ally, while the Soviet Union, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, has long been championing the Palestinian cause.

Furthermore, Shamir is said to reason, if negotiations over the final status of the territories break down, they would remain under Israel’s control.

But these speculations are moot considering the apparently irreconcilable split between Labor and Likud over the future of the territories and the nature of a peace settlement. Most observers here believe a new government will have to be elected before Israel offers its own formula, which would reflect the outcome of the elections.


Elections are mandated by law to be held no later than November, when the term of the Labor-Likud unity coalition government expires. They may well take place before that deadline. Whenever the voters go to the polls, the overriding issue will be “peace or territories,” political observers say.

It will be the first time since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War that the electorate will be confronted with the choice.

Labor Knesset member Abba Eban, who chairs the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, has challenged Shamir’s contention that United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 does not necessarily apply to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The resolution calls for “withdrawal from territories,” without further specification.

Eban, quoted Tuesday in the Jerusalem Post, cited a speech by Menachem Begin to the Knesset on Aug. 4, 1970, when Begin was the Herut member of a short-lived coalition government from which he was about to resign.

He said, according to Eban: “From our point of view . . . what do the words ‘withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict’ mean? When our signature is affixed to a document alongside that of His Majesty the King (Hussein of Jordan), it means relinquishing Judea and Samaria. Not all of Judea and Samaria, but most of it. Any other definition (of 242) is an illusion. It is inconceivable that we would sign such a document.”

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