WORLD

SHAMIR UNDER FIRE

AN INTELLIGENCE REPORT CONCLUDES THAT THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT MUST NEGOTIATE PEACE WITH THE PLO

JOHN BIERMAN April 3 1989
WORLD

SHAMIR UNDER FIRE

AN INTELLIGENCE REPORT CONCLUDES THAT THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT MUST NEGOTIATE PEACE WITH THE PLO

JOHN BIERMAN April 3 1989

SHAMIR UNDER FIRE

WORLD

AN INTELLIGENCE REPORT CONCLUDES THAT THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT MUST NEGOTIATE PEACE WITH THE PLO

For the past three months, pressure has been building on Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to reverse the country’s decades-old policy and agree to talks with the new-look Palestine Liberation Organization. Always his answer has been a word that politicans usually try to avoid—“Never.” And always Shamir has argued that there are moderate Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to whom Israel should talk instead. But last week—as he was hosting a solidarity-withIsrael conference attended by prominent Jews from all parts of the world—Shamir’s own intelligence services dealt a crushing blow to his position. In a report to the cabinet, obtained by the media, the intelligence chiefs concluded that Israel had no choice but to negotiate with the PLO if it wanted to end the 15-month-old intifadeh, or uprising, in the occupied territories.

Shamir denied the reports, describing them as “a total lie.” But the Israeli dailies that published the report stood by it. Defence ministry sources confirmed for Maclean ’s that the intelligence services had indeed provided the assessment, and the director general of Shamir’s own office appeared to back away from his chief’s denial. The report emerged as U.S. officials pressed their own peacemaking efforts in the Middle East and while Shamir prepared for an April 6 Washington meeting with President George Bush. The controversy also broke out just before the 10th anniversary on March 26 of Israel’s Camp David peace treaty with Egypt. And Shamir’s hard-line stance drew attention to the fact that, in 1979, he had refused to endorse Camp David—while his foreign minister, Moshe Arens, had actually voted against it.

As the 1,500 participants at the solidarity conference—including a 50-strong Canadian

delegation—met in Jerusalem, the intifadeh continued with renewed intensity. During the week, one Palestinian was killed and at least 39 were injured by Israeli security forces, bringing the overall Palestinian death toll to 405. But a formal statement issued at the end of the conference made no mention of either the uprising or the PLO. In an obvious attempt to strengthen Shamir’s position before his Washington visit, the delegates merely affirmed their solidarity with Israel and applauded its “efforts to achieve peace and security with its neighbors.”

But that did not satisfy all the conference participants.

“There has not been one original idea here in three days,” said Sten Lukin, publisher of the Boston Jewish Times. And from Montreal, Irwin Cotier, a McGill University law professor, human rights campaigner and former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, seemed uneasy over Israel’s tough handling of the intifadeh. He told the conference, “We ignore human rights at the peril of our case and our cause.”

£ But the highly confiJ. dential intelligence report £ dominated the week’s events. £ It was apparently drawn up I jointly by Mossad, the spy £ agency that handles overseas operations; Shin Bet, which deals with Israel’s internal security; and military intelligence officials. The report concluded that there was no serious Palestinian leadership outside of the PLO and that the PLO had genuinely moved toward moderation last December when its leader, Yasser Arafat, renounced terrorism and declared its recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Shamir and other members of his Likud party, who dominate the Likud-Labour “national unity” government, have insisted that Arafat’s declarations cannot be trusted and that the PLO remains a terrorist organiza-

tion dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

Despite those suspicions, the Reagan administration at the time responded to Arafat’s declaration by beginning talks with the PLO. And in Tunis last week, the Bush administration continued the process—although it was not clear what success it had. Ambassador Robert Pelletreau, who led the three-man U.S. team, said after the 41/2-hour session that he had asked the Palestinians to take “practical steps to ease tensions in the occupied territories and lead to direct negotiations” with the Israelis. Neither he nor the chief PLO representative, Yasser Abed Rabbo, disclosed how the Americans proposed to ease tensions. But before the session began, a U.S. spokesman said that the Palestinians would not be asked to end the intifadeh. For their part, the Palestinians rejected a U.S. suggestion to hold elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Declared Rabbo: “Elections under occupation are out of the

question.” But he did agree to meet Israeli officials “in the framework of preparing for the international conference”—a conference that the PLO insists on but that Shamir has firmly ruled out.

The U.S.-PLO dialogue is expected to resume after Shamir’s visit to Washington. Meanwhile, both sides in the Middle East conflict were competing for public relations advantages. Representing the PLO campaign in the United States was Arafat’s personal representative, Nabil Shaath, who has been talking to American Jewish groups and members of the news media, among others. He told Maclean’s, “I am greatly encouraged by my encounters with Americans in general, and with Jewish Americans in particular.” Predicted Shaath: “We will have an independent state in five years.”

Shaath’s optimism was based in part on U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s recent groundbreaking assertion that the Israelis might eventually have to negotiate with the PLO. And, clearly, Israel’s uneasy governing coalition could fall apart over the issue. Labour leader Shimon Peres, the deputy prime minister, referred indirectly to that possibility last week when he told the solidarity conference that “in the coming months,” his party might have to make “a historic choice.” Labour’s parliamentary faction chairman, Haim Ramon, was more explicit. “There is no reason for Labour to stay in the government if Shamir comes back from Washington without having budged,” he said. And a close Peres associate, Labour MP and deputy Finance Minister Yossi Beilin, went a step further, calling openly for direct talks with the PLO if it abandons violence.

But members of the government’s right wing gave no indication of a willingness to compromise. Likud members angrily blamed Labour ministers for leaking the embarrassing intelligence assessment to the media. And sources close to Shamir said that he had no intention of softening his stand. Talks with the PLO could only lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, Shamir told the solidarity conference, and that would produce “the peace of the cemetery.” Ten years after Camp David, Shamir was still too suspicious of Arab intentions to take any chances—and last week that seemed to be the message he planned to take to the White House.

JOHN BIERMAN with ERIC SILVER in Jerusalem and MARCI McDONALD in Washington

ERIC SILVER

MARCI McDONALD