As Israel’s electoral race headed into its final two weeks, Shimon Peres, the Labor Alignment candidate for prime minister, Monday unveiled a plan for elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to choose Palestinian participants in proposed Middle East peace talks.
Under Peres’ plan, even if peace talks should fail, Israel would prepare to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 1990.
Peres, who is foreign minister in the present national unity government, and the Labor Alignment are considered slight underdogs in the election scheduled for Nov. 1. The rightist Likud Bloc, led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, is favored to win a plurality in the Knesset, or Parliament, and the first chance at forming a new governing coalition.
Prime Issue in Campaign
The future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel since 1967, is a prime issue in the campaign. For the past 10 months, the territories have been in violent revolt against Israeli rule. Labor is seen as more dovish on the question of giving up land in return for peace with the Palestinians, while Likud takes a harder line.
At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Peres repeated his call for an international conference that would include Israel and a joint delegation of Palestinians and officials from neighboring Jordan. On condition that the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza should subside within three to six months, there would be elections to select peace negotiators, Peres said.
“If the violence is restrained, we will hold free elections in Judea, Samaria and Gaza so that a . . . delegation can be elected to represent the Palestinian side in negotiations,” Peres said. Judea and Samaria are Biblical names for the West Bank area.
Present with Peres at the news conference was Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a fellow Laborite.
Likud officials responded with scorn to the Labor proposal. They said the Arab uprising has made elections impossible. Also, they said, the plan does not conform to the Camp David peace agreement signed 10 years ago by Israel and Egypt. The Camp David agreement called for a period of autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza before elections.
“This plan violates the Camp David process,” said Avi Pazner, a spokesman for Shamir.
Labor’s call for such elections echoes an earlier Israeli policy aimed at seeking out moderate Palestinian leaders. Elections were held in 1972 and 1976 under Israeli auspices but resulted in numerous victories for candidates who backed the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel deposed or deported most of the mayors elected in 1976, and elections scheduled for 1980 were canceled.
Under Peres’ plan, no one affiliated with the PLO would be permitted to run in the elections.
Cornerstone of Peres’ Bid
Peres has made peace talks the cornerstone of his election campaign and has held to his platform even though Jordan has ceded to the PLO full responsibility for any talks.
His views basically parallel a proposal made last spring by Secretary of State George P. Shultz to convene peace talks between the Israelis and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
The Gaza Strip, with its population of 650,000 Arabs, is considered a liability by all but the most expansion-minded Israelis. The West Bank, population 850,000, is dear to the hearts of many Israelis because it embraces several Biblical sites and is considered strategically important. About 70,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza.
Likud has offered almost nothing in the way of a peace plan. Shamir told The Times last week that his party is unwilling to give up land but that the position might change if negotiations get under way with Arab adversaries.
Shamir has taken an increasingly tough stand toward ending the Palestinian uprising, or intifada , as it is known in Arabic. At a campaign stop Monday, Shamir warned that if the Arabs begin using firearms, Israel will retaliate forcefully. Until now, the Palestinians’ main weapons have been stones and homemade gasoline bombs.