JERUSALEM, JAN. 31 -- Israel will not be willing to negotiate a solution to the Palestinian issue after the Persian Gulf War unless it can simultaneously open direct, bilateral peace talks with Arab states, Foreign Minister David Levy said today.
Levy, outlining a five-point policy he has drawn up for a postwar settlement, indicated that Israel would resist any move by the United States and the Soviet Union to jointly structure a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute, especially if the initiative involved an international conference.
Moreover, Levy insisted, no peace process would be possible unless the war ended in a total Iraqi defeat and the downfall of President Saddam Hussein. "It's clear that if the world is not rid of this regime with all its military potential, the world will be in constant danger," he said.
Levy's plan, outlined in an interview with The Washington Post, has yet to be adopted by the coalition government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and some officials expressed doubts about whether it would be acceptable either to Shamir or to the far-right parties in his cabinet. A prominent rival of Shamir for several years, Levy has seemingly been excluded from the prime minister's inner circle as he has steered Israeli policy in the two-week-old war.
Still, Levy's condition that any Israeli-Palestinian talks be accompanied by progress on the broader Israeli-Arab dispute seems likely to be a central plank in Israel's postwar policy, analysts said. Shamir has backed the linkage in several public statements.
Levy's policy implicitly clashes with a U.S.-Soviet declaration issued Tuesday, which said a cessation of hostilities would be possible if Iraq would make "an unequivocal commitment to withdraw from Kuwait . . . backed by immediate, concrete steps leading to full compliance" with the U.N. resolutions. The statement also pledged a joint effort by the superpowers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute after the war.
However, Levy expressed confidence that the Bush administration also intends to eliminate Saddam's regime, although it has never stated that goal explicitly. He said he had been assured the U.S.-Soviet statement represented no change in U.S. policy, and added that he expected Washington would be open to his initiative after the war.
Levy's plan, drawn up since he became foreign minister last June in a new, right-wing government, differs substantially from the last Israeli peace plan, which was put forward by Shamir in May 1989. It also called for direct talks between Israel and Arab states, but did not link them directly to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The new plan begins with a demand that Arab states unilaterally announce an end to the state of belligerency that all but Egypt have officially maintained with Israel since its founding in 1948. It suggests, in addition to Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian talks, "an agreement on supervision of the arms race," and provision for joint development projects in the Middle East funded by the United States, European Community and Japan.
"We are speaking about a new order for the Middle East," said Levy, 53, a veteran of the ruling Likud Party, who is known for his populist rhetoric and who aspires to succeed Shamir as prime minister. "That means we have to leave behind the anachronistic forces that brought war on us. First of all, that is the state of war between Israel and the Arab states."
Asked if Israel's willingness to negotiate with Palestinians was conditional on direct peace talks with other Arabs, Levy responded, "What's a condition? If the Arab states don't sit and negotiate with us, then also America and the West will know it's not peace." In that case, he added, the Palestinian problem would be "a marginal issue."
"We have to do both things, because this is the guarantee for peace," he said. "Israel should be guaranteed that the surrounding Arab countries want peace."
A year-long effort by Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III to implement Israel's last peace plan broke down last March when Shamir rejected a Baker formula for Israeli-Palestinian talks. The talks were to have centered on how to carry out Shamir's proposal for elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and subsequent establishment of limited Arab self-rule. Levy was one of the most vocal opponents of the elections plan and Baker's attempts to implement it.
Levy said that "once we start face-to-face negotiations with the Arab countries, we will at the same time negotiate with the Palestinians." He said he now could accept Shamir's election plan, which stems from the 1979 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, adding that if the Palestinians "accept the Israeli initiative, certainly there will be elections."
Levy said he foresaw that an end to the war that "wipes out" Saddam "and all he represents," would leave the United States in a position to exercise decisive influence in a Middle East peace process.
"Today there is a single superpower in the world, and that is the United States," he said. "It has the capacity not just to influence but to bring about that decision to end the Arab state of war against Israel, because the Arab states, for the most part, need the United States and the West more than the United States needs them, both politically and economically."
While advocating U.S. pressure on Arab leaders, Levy said Israel should not be pressured. "Certainly no one should think that pressure on Israel is going to bring about these things," he said.