Eshkol Praises Johnson Warmly, Reveals President’s Desalination Recommendation

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol voiced high praise today for President Lyndon B. Johnson who ends his term in office tomorrow. Mr. Eshkol disclosed the contents of fare-well messages exchanged between himself and Mr. Johnson over the week-end. The President informed him that he had recommended a substantial grant for establishment of a sea water desalination plant in Israel in his final message to the United States Congress. Prime Minister Eshkol referred to the President’s message at today’s Cabinet meeting and later at ceremonies formalizing the parliamentary alignment between Mr. Eshkol’s Israel Labor Party and the left-wing labor party, Mapam. Mr. Eshkol called Mr. Johnson “one of the righteous men of the world” and predicted that he would take a place in history among the great U.S. President.

Mr. Eshkol praised Mr. Johnson’s conduct “during the period of storm and stress, in May and June, 1967″ when “the President showed his understanding of our position and opposed every attempt to widen the scope of the dispute beyond the Israel-Arab context.” He said that immediately after the Six-Day War, Mr. Johnson “Iaid down the effort to achieve permanent peace in the Middle East as the foundation of his country’s policy. When peace comes, and I am convinced it will come.” Mr. Eshkol said, “President Johnson’s historic contribution will be appreciated.”

The exchange of notes dealt mainly with the water desalination project, Cabinet Secretary Michael Arnon revealed. He noted that Mr. Johnson’s request for an appropriation to cover a large part of Israel’s desalination needs did not amount to final approval since the measure has to pass the Congress along with the entire budget for fiscal 1969. It was learned that U.S. and Israeli negotiators agreed last summer on a desalination project that could yield 40 million gallons of desalted water daily–about five percent of Israel’s requirements and produce between 200 and 300 megawatts of electric power. The plan, smaller than one originally envisaged, would be aided by a $40 million grant to Israel and a long term loan of $18 million, the terms of which would be negotiated with American banks. The agreement did not specify the type of fuel to be used in the desalination plant–nuclear or conventional–but the loan and grant were not made conditional on the choice of fuel. The original plan envisaged a nuclear reactor for the plant. The choice of fuel was up to the Israel Government.

Mr. Eshkol said that President Johnson understood the need for peaceful development of the Middle East and the supreme importance of water for that purpose. He said Mr. Johnson showed great interest in desalination when he and Mr. Eshkol first talked in Washington in 1964 and that they had been in constant contact on the subject ever since.

LABOR GETS FIRST PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY IN ISRAEL’S HISTORY

At the political ceremony attended by Mr. Eshkol, the Israel Labor Party and Mapam signed a protocol formally establishing an alignment that will give labor its first clear majority in the Knesset (Parliament) in Israel’s history. The protocol provided joint Labor Party-Mapam lists of candidates in next October’s national and municipal elections. Knesset seats will be divided according to a proportional arrangement agreed to in advance. A Labor Party leader recommended that it continue to cooperate with the Orthodox religious bloc in the interest of national unity even though Labor commands a clear majority. Labor is composed of the former Mapai, Achdut Avodah and Rafi factions, which merged last year, in addition to Mapam. Mrs. Golda Meir, former Labor Party secretary general said that Labor could now form a government independent of the religious parties. The latter, though representing a minority of the electorate, have held the balance of power in all previous governments because of the need to form a coalition.

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