Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday to renew negotiations on Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied territories.
At the same time, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, seeking to speed negotiations on the volatile Palestinian issue, suggested that parliamentary elections, scheduled for Nov. 1, be held instead in the spring. The goal, he said, would be to have a fresh government in place to undertake any talks that might develop.
Shamir immediately rejected the notion of moving up the elections, saying: "At this time when we are under attack, it would not be good for the people of Israel to enter into an elections war. It will weaken our position in the eyes of the Arabs."
Shamir's message to the Egyptian leader was regarded by his aides as a possible solution to end the uprisings that have gripped the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, some critics suggested that it was a diplomatic ploy to avoid suggestions by Peres for an international peace conference to determine the fate of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Shamir revealed his message to the Egyptian president at a meeting of the Knesset's (Parliament) foreign affairs and defense committee, where he suggested that the autonomy talks, which were part of the 1979 Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt, be restarted.
The original talks on the touchy question of autonomy for the Palestinians living in the occupied territories never got off the ground--partly because the two major factions in the Israeli coalition government, the right-wing Likud Bloc under Shamir and the more moderate Labor Alignment under Peres could not agree on a common approach.
The political divisions in the government, Peres conceded, would make it extremely difficult to change the election date over so volatile an issue as the Palestinian issue.
But, he said, "government policy is in effect paralyzed" because of internal discord. "I think we can do an election in 90 days at minimal cost. We cannot leave Israel without a political decision."
Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, recently has suggested that he might agree to recognize the existence of the state of Israel in return for direct negotiations with Israel over a Palestinian state.
But Shamir said Monday that Israel would not negotiate directly with Arafat, only with "authentic representatives" of the Palestinian people. The PLO has been declared by the rest of the Arab world as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied territories.
Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip appeared relatively calm Monday with seven of the eight Palestinian refugee camps still under a heavy curfew, leaving about 200,000 residents restricted to their homes.
Israeli military authorities said that if relative calm continued, they would consider relaxing curfews on other Gaza Strip camps, which have reported serious food shortages with the residents confined to their quarters.
However, on the West Bank late Monday, the army reimposed curfews on two camps near Nablus, Balata and Askar, after new disturbances broke out. Also, leaflets distributed in the West Bank by what security officials believe are Muslim fundamentalists called for a new general strike today. The leaflets urged a "complete standstill" in which not even private vehicles should be driven.
Western reporters witnessed one startling incident Monday in the Gaza Strip. Reporters saw army soldiers, who were patrolling a main road, jump out of three jeeps, take the plastic shopping baskets of food away from Palestinian refugee women outside the Bureij camp, toss the baskets on the ground and stomp on the contents.
The women looked on, weeping and screaming, as the troops destroyed their food.
"We are not punishing them," a colonel explained to a reporter from Reuters news agency. "We just want to give them a reason not to break the curfew. They were going out of the camp, which was under curfew. If they (had) succeeded, there would be 200 tomorrow."
When army reinforcements arrived, the area was declared a closed military zone and the reporters were ordered to leave.