PRIME MINISTER Yitzhak Shamir will bring no elaborated plan for resolving his country's conflict with the Palestinians to talks with President Bush tomorrow in Washington. Instead, he will offer proposals for interim arrangements under which peace negotiations can begin. He won't accept any advance commitment on the outcome of those negotiations, Mr. Shamir and his aides made clear before the prime minister departed Israel.
Shamir has rejected in advance three key concessions: negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, readiness to exchange land for peace, and ultimate establishment of a Palestinian state.
Regarding arrangements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Shamir has produced a new version of the provisions of the 1978 Camp David accords with Egypt. He proposes an interim period of wide-ranging Palestinian autonomy - in which the occupied territories would be administered by a Palestinian self-governing council - followed by talks on a final settlement involving Palestinians from the territories.
In addition, Shamir is willing to hold elections in the territories to choose either Palestinian negotiators or local mayors, who could play a role in Palestinian self-government. In return for a lull in violent protests, he is willing to consider goodwill gestures such as withdrawal of the Army from population centers and release of prisoners.
Shamir's proposals fall far short of Palestinian demands that interim arrangements such as elections be linked to a pre-determined final settlement, and lead to negotiations with the PLO.
They also diverge from the American view that, if talks with local Palestinians fail, then negotiations may ultimately have to be held with the PLO.
The Prime Minister's modest proposals reflect not only his own reluctance to make concessions, but also the lack of a mandate in Israel for any far-reaching political moves in the occupied territories.
The governing coalition of the right-wing Likud and centrist Labor Parties is split over the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and unable to agree on a comprehensive peace initiative, which spells out the possible form of a final settlement.
In direct contradiction to Shamir's stance, the Labor Party supports the principle of exchanging land for peace. The party's leaders, Finance Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, proposed their own plans for elections in the territories, but have also voiced willingness to include Palestinians from outside the territories in peace talks.
Mr. Peres has even hinted at readiness to talk to PLO members, if the organization makes good on its pledge to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel.
Further to the left, groups within the Labor Party and left-wing parties have called for talks with the PLO now as the only way to reach a solution. They argue that the organization's recent statements recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism should be tested at the negotiating table.
But Shamir is also under pressure from the right wing not to buckle to American and Palestinian demands. A day prior to his departure for the US, delegation of Jewish settlers pressed him to make no concessions and to maintain his commitment to establishing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Public opinion remains divided and confused. Recent polls showed that while an overwhelming majority of Israelis are suspicious of the PLO and unwilling to negotiate with it now, many would agree to talks with the organization if it formally recognized Israel and kept its promise to renounce terrorism.
Government paralysis and an undecided public have made it easier for Shamir to avoid moving boldly toward breaking the impasse in the peace process. He may successfully avoid concessions during his talks in Washington, but a possible crisis with the US administration, and a continuation of the costly status quo in the occupied territories, could cause a political rift with his coalition partners and hasten pragmatic trends in Israeli public opinion.