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White House Welcomes Senators’ Letter of Concern About Shamir

March 8, 1988
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The White House welcomed Monday a letter by 30 senators to Secretary of State George Shultz implying that Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir was obstructing the peace effort in the Middle East by opposing Shultz’s land-for-peace formula.

The letter, signed by many of Israel’s most staunch supporters in the Senate, also criticized Jordan for “backing away” from its earlier support of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to negotiate with Israel.

“The views of these senators are helpful to us and probably instructive to other parties in the region,” White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.

“The administration, of course, welcomes the support and advice from this group; they are senators of considerable stature and interests and involvement in Middle East affairs.”

Fitzwater, however, declined to comment on Shamir’s views. “We’ll have to undergo any number of discussions in the weeks ahead,” he said. Shamir, who comes to Washington next week, will meet with President Reagan March 16 at the White House.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups have criticized the letter as interfering in Israel’s domestic affairs. The Zionist Organization of America’s executive committee released a statement saying the senators’ criticism “will only serve to embolden the enemies of Israel, the Jewish people and the American-Israel alliance.”

Rabbi Milton Polin, president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, said the letter “is ill-timed and unhelpful” and “an unwarranted and outrageous interference in Israel’s internal politics.”


The letter was initiated by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), according to a Washington source. He was prompted, according to the letter, after Shamir was reported in the Feb. 26 New York Times as saying that the “expression of territory for peace is not accepted by me.”

Levin and Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) circulated the letter, which also contains the signatures of three other Jewish senators, Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and Warren Rudman (R-N.H.).

Other signers included some of Israel’s leading supporters, including Sens. William Cohen (R-Maine), Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Robert Kasten (R-Wis.) and Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

Two Jewish senators did not sign the letter, Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Chic Hecht (R-Nev.).

A spokesman for Specter confirmed Monday that the Pennsylvania Republican believed “it’s a very bad idea” for senators to be giving “any such advice” to Israelis, at least publicly. He said if senators disagreed with Shamir’s position, they should have told the Israelis in private.

Hecht, who reportedly was not asked to sign the letter, was reported as saying the Senate “should not interfere” in Israel’s affairs.

The letter was sent to Shultz after he returned this weekend from the Middle East, where he had given Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria a written detailed proposal for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict.


“We hope that the prime minister’s statement did not indicate that Israel is abandoning a policy that offers the best hope of long-term peace,” the senators’ letter said.

While “Israel cannot be expected to give up all the territory gained in 1967 or to return to the dangerous and insecure pre-67 borders,” the letter continued, “peace negotiations have little chance of success if the Israeli government’s position rules out territorial compromise.”

The letter also said that the senators are “disturbed by reports that Jordan may be backing away from the idea of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that would negotiate with the Israelis at a peace conference. These accounts indicate that Jordan may insist on an independent PLO presence at the negotiating table.

“We hope that these reports are without foundation. Israel rejects negotiations with the PLO, and rightly so. However, its officials have indicated that it would negotiate with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Jordan’s abandonment of the joint delegation concept now would deal a serious blow to the peace process.”

The senators stressed that “it is only through compromise by both sides that we will achieve Middle East peace.”

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