JERUSALEM — Emerging from a three-day holiday weekend, Israelis today braced for one of the busiest and potentially most important political weeks of the year--one likely to contain a major diplomatic push to move the peace process forward and one that could see a formal split in the opposition Likud Party.
With the July 1 target date for agreeing on the next phase of the delicate peace process looming, Secretary of State Warren Christopher is due to arrive in the region Wednesday for a round of shuttle diplomacy that is expected to take him to Jerusalem, the West Bank town of Jericho and the Syrian capital, Damascus, in search of the way forward.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in Jordan for talks with King Hussein on Sunday, also is scheduled to get involved in the peace process when he takes part in a three-nation summit today with the Jordanian king and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a European-financed water development project site on the Israeli-Jordanian border.
The summit, part of a long-arranged Kohl visit to the two countries, symbolizes Europe's growing profile in the region.
As negotiations continue in Cairo between Israeli and Palestinian representatives to transfer additional responsibilities to the self-governing Palestinian Authority, the larger issue of broadening the authority's geographical reach beyond the Gaza Strip and Jericho remains stalled.
Initially scheduled to occur a year ago, the so-called second phase of the peace plan now requires Israelis and the Palestinians to agree by July 1 on a detailed plan for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from additional West Bank towns and to establish the terms for conducting Palestinian elections in the area.
With the sense of disillusionment at the lack of progress deepening among Palestinians in the West Bank, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat is expected to underscore the need to meet the deadline in meetings planned with the visitors and Rabin.
In Jerusalem and Damascus, Christopher is also expected to address the equally sensitive issue of returning the Golan Heights to Syria. The strategically important region was captured by Israeli forces during the 1967 Six-Day War and has remained in Israeli hands.
In recent weeks, Israeli leaders have worked to prepare public opinion for such a move, with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declaring that the Golan is not a natural part of Israel and Rabin promising a referendum to approve the terms of any negotiated return.
Amid this flurry of diplomatic activity, changes could come on the domestic political front as increasingly bitter internal clashes threaten to tear apart the opposition Likud.
In what is primarily a personality clash, former Foreign Minister David Levy has declared that he will leave the party and take his supporters with him if Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu presses ahead today at a party convention for rule changes that would sharply diminish Levy's strength.