BIRGAFFGAFFA, Sinai (Feb. 29)
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol paid a surprise visit to Israeli armored troops in the Sinai today, accompanied by the Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev. Speaking at the former Egyptian officers’ club at which President Nasser, only last May, challenged the then Israeli Chief of Staff, Gen. Rabin to “come,” Mr. Eshkol declared, “we are ready to forget the past and ready to meet for a true and honorable peace.”
The Prime Minister and Gen. Bar-Lev arrived at this outpost by helicopter in a driving sandstorm but reviewed a guard of honor nevertheless. Mr. Eshkol remarked to the troops, “my impression is that we are feeling rather strong here.” He chose the occasion to deny emphatically rumors that Israel had reversed her stand on direct peace talks with the Arabs. “We shall not go back to Lausanne and we shall not agree to prolonged mediation by telephone on through mediation commit tees. We stand firm on direct talks,” he said. Mr. Eshkol’s reference to Lausanne was to an abortive U.N. sponsored armistice conference that took place there in 1949. Israel was confronted then with a “committee” representing all of the Arab states which sat in a separate room and refused to have any contact with the Israelis. The conference failed but Israel reached armistice agreements later that year at direct talks with the Arabs.
Mr. Eshkol’s statement, though made to the Israeli troops, was obviously addressed to the Arabs, the United Nations and all others concerned. “We do not want to think in terms of the victors and the defeated,” he said. “But there is no escaping the fact that after every war both sides have to meet to arrange a peace settlement. We hope this will happen. The only question is when?”