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Shamir's Adroit Balancing Act Quiets Critics


ISRAEL'S unlikely peacemaker, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, has emerged more popular than ever from the opening round of Middle East peace talks, effectively silencing left-wing skeptics and placating his fractious hard-line government.The Middle East peace effort is entering its second phase, which calls for direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, and a Jordanian-Palestinian team, but there was continuing uncertainty in Madrid yesterday over where and when those talks would take place. In the eyes of Israelis, Mr. Shamir succeeded in Madrid by putting forward his recipe for peace with the Arabs and security for Jews without committing Israel to giving up territory. At the same time, he appeared to leave the door open to future concessions. "Everyone interpreted [the Shamir speeches] according to their individual approaches," wrote Chana Kim in the liberal newspaper Haaretz. "The key [was that] Shamir announced that the conflict was not territorial. Yossi Sarid [a dovish member of parliament] said this demonstrates that Shamir is open to negotiations on the territories; Eliakim Haetzny [a right-wing critic of the peace process] said that this demonstrates Shamir is closing out the opportunity of negotiations on the territories."

United Israelis In an editorial yesterday, the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper declared: "Israelis united around Shamir's [opening] address in a way that they had rarely done since [the Arab-Israeli war in] 1967," when Israel captured the Arab lands around which the current talks focus. The adroit balancing act leaves Israelis optimistic but hardly certain that the second phase of the peace process will lead to peace treaties with Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, a settlement with the Palestinians, and Arab recognition of the Jewish state. Most Palestinians here, too, feel the opening round was good for them, raising their stature to that of the Israelis and surrounding Arab states and putting fresh political faces before a world audience. "It's the first time the Palestinians stood in front of the world and explained our problems and our hopes for the future," said Ibrahim Barghouti, an attorney from Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ahmed Seif, a Palestinian journalist in East Jerusalem, added: "I believe the Palestinians have won the diplomatic battle." But he warned against premature celebrations or giddiness. Over the weekend, hundreds of Palestinians waved olive branches and unfurled outlawed Palestinian flags in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. Unusually tolerant Israeli police and soldiers turned a blind eye to most of the activity.

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Dark clouds still hang To be sure, plenty of dark clouds hang over the future of the superpower-sponsored talks. In addition to continuing uncertainties over the venue and the timing of the second phase of negotiations, Shamir continues to preside over a government philosophically opposed to the return of any land occupied since 1967. Far-right members of the government could precipitate a government crisis should bilateral talks lead to an Israeli commitment to withdraw from occupied territories. Shamir also remains at odds with his foreign minister, David Levy, who boycotted the Madrid conference after Shamir said he would lead the Israeli delegation. Mr. Levy is one of several ruling Likud Party members who have declared they will try to unseat Shamir before next year's scheduled parliamentary elections.

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