JERUSALEM (Feb. 10)
Foreign Minister Abba Eban denied today that Israel has rejected Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s proposal to reopen the Suez Canal. He said that interpretation placed by Cairo on Premier Golda Meir’s Knesset speech yesterday was hasty and declared. “We hope that upon closer reflection the Cairo government will take a more mature view.” Mrs. Meir told the Knesset that her government supports the reopening of the waterway but insisted that the withdrawal of Israeli forces from its east bank, a pre-condition demanded by Sadat, could come about only in the context of a firm peace settlement between Israel and Egypt. Egypt’s official spokesman, Munir Hafez said in Cairo last night that Israeli withdrawal was an essential condition without which the Canal could not be cleared and made safe for navigation. Hafez linked Israeli navigation rights in the Canal to a solution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Addressing foreign newsmen at a press conference, Eban listed three ways in which the Egyptian government could help advance the situation toward peace. First, he said, Egypt should abolish the 30-day deadline which it imposed on the latest cease-fire extension “and which has been received with disappointment internationally.” Secondly, Egypt should respond affirmatively to the proposals submitted by Israel through United Nations mediator Gunnar V. Jarring. Thirdly, Eban said, Egypt can cooperate in reopening the Suez Canal to all shipping, including Israel’s.
“The ball is now in the Egyptian court but can be returned for fruitful discussions,” the Israeli Foreign Minister said. Eban said that Israel objects to any Big Power discussion at this stage of future border guarantees and has so informed the United States, although the latter has agreed to participate in such discussions with the other major powers–Soviet Union, Britain and France. Eban said that Washington has assured Israel that it stands by and will defend the principle that Big Power guarantees are no substitute for a peace treaty. However, Eban said, the mere discussion of guarantees before a peace treaty is achieved carried “psychological risks.” He said Israel feared that the Arab countries “might be tempted to regard this as an escape route which would enable them to avoid concluding peace with Israel.” Referring to the Suez Canal, Eban said the waterway had greater political than economic importance for Israel. He said Egypt’s refusal to allow its use by Israeli shipping was “discrimination that is contagious.” He said there was no legal basis in international law to link Israel’s use of the canal to a solution of the refugee problem. Eban recalled that on Sept. 1, 1951 the Security Council stated explicitly that Israel had the right of passage through the Canal under the then existing armistice agreement. All the more so, this must apply under conditions of non-belligerency which is one of the major points of the Security Council’s Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967, Eban said.