Shamir, Bowing to Right, Limits Arab Vote Plan
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir bowed to pressure from right-wing leaders in his own party Wednesday and spelled out strict limits on his plan to hold elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The new framework seems destined both to make his plan harder for Palestinians to swallow and to deepen divisions between Israel and Washington over the future shape of a Middle East peace.
Speaking to a meeting of the Likud Party’s Central Committee, Shamir pledged that neither Palestinian independence nor control of the West Bank and Gaza by any Arab government will result from his initiative--"no foreign sovereignty on any part of the land of Israel,” he said emphatically.
Uprising Must End
He added that the Arab uprising, under way for nearly 19 months, must end before talks leading to a vote--which is designed to let Palestinians choose negotiators to represent them--can take place. In the meantime, his government will continue to build Israeli settlements in the occupied lands.
“Every Jew who wants may settle anywhere in the land of Israel,” Shamir declared.
For the first time, Shamir expressly excluded participation of Arabs who reside in East Jerusalem from the vote. He also repeated his oft-stated rejection of talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
At each expression of defiance or assurance, Shamir was greeted with rhythmic clapping and finally, patriotic songs.
“This is our only homeland, and therefore we will have the upper hand in the struggle,” Shamir said. “Therefore, we will have the victory over the violence and the terror that are the permanent characteristics of the terror struggle of the Palestinians.”
The exclusion of the Arabs of East Jerusalem, which was formally integrated into the Jewish state after the 1967 Six-Day War, and Shamir’s insistence on perpetual Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza run counter to two key Palestinian conditions for possible participation in a vote.
Moreover, Shamir’s promotion of the settlement program as well as the claim to a Greater Israel stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea directly challenge Bush Administration policy.
He again appealed to the Administration to cease its contacts with the PLO, which have been going on since December.
“We tell our friends in the United States, the contacts they are conducting with the PLO are a serious mistake and will in the future damage our interests and theirs, and chances for an agreement,” he warned.
Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens ordered his diplomats to reject any reports of talks with the PLO from any foreign government, including the United States.
The new terms for peace negotiations were laid down in a resolution approved by the 2,600-member Central Committee of the Likud Party, which Shamir heads. In effect, the prime minister bound himself to four points demanded by political rivals inside Likud, including Trade and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon, who as defense minister led the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Sharon and his allies, Likud ministers David Levy and Yitzhak Modai, had threatened to force a vote to reject Shamir’s election program unless he gave in to their demands. Negotiations among the Likud ministers over the wording of the resolution carried on right up to the beginning of the meeting, which started 90 minutes late and took place in an exhibition hall at a Tel Aviv fairground.
Cautious Style Praised
Shamir did not oppose the reservations of his rivals in principle; indeed, he had often said the same things publicly. But as a tactic, he had refrained from putting specifics on paper so as to give his election proposal a chance to get off the ground. In Washington, the cautious style was praised as “constructive ambiguity.”
Shamir’s original election proposal, offered in May, called for a vote among the 1.7 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to choose delegates willing to negotiate an autonomy arrangement with Israel. It envisioned talks on a final settlement beginning three to five years afterward. Shamir has said that at that point, Israel would claim sovereignty over the land and negotiate from that basis.
Sharon had long sensed discomfort in the Likud Party over Shamir’s plan. For more than a month, he campaigned among party activists to press the message that, once the negotiations get under way, anything might happen unless Israel closes any loopholes that might lead to the loss of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday, Sharon seemed to feel that “constructive ambiguity” had been defeated.
“All these points make it very clear now what are the limits, how far Israel can go and where we will not be going,” he said jubilantly.
Political observers attending the meeting said that the maneuver by Sharon may put him in a position to veto any future peace moves. The flamboyant leader had been all but excluded in the coalition government from participating in key questions of war and peace. Now he has found a voice through the party.
Shamir apparently accepted the conditions in the hopes of preserving party unity. In the speech he delivered Wednesday, he urged Likud members not to split over the peace initiative. “We will not be divided,” he promised.
While preserving unity within party ranks, Shamir may have endangered the uneasy ruling coalition that Likud shares with the rival Labor Party. Late Wednesday, Labor officials were meeting to reconsider their role in the government. Finance Minister Shimon Peres said that Labor could not agree to certain limitations put on the peace initiative, which had already been approved by the joint government.
Uzi Baram, a Parliament member from Labor’s left wing, said the resolution was “a step to an inevitable separation” between Likud and Labor.
In his speech to the Likud committee, Shamir indicated that he would step up Israel’s armed campaign to put down the Arab uprising, or intifada , as it is known in Arabic.
“Doing away with the violence is uppermost on our agenda,” he said.
In recent days, the army has conducted sweeps of the West Bank and rounded up about 200 Palestinian activists charged with leading the revolt at the grass-roots level. Another 100 were arrested Wednesday, Palestinians reported.