JERUSALEM (Mar. 15)
Premier Golda Meir seems assured of strong backing from her coalition partners in tomorrow’s Knesset debate over the territorial position she took in an interview published in the London Times last Saturday, political observers said today. Opposition by the National Religious Party appears to have been warded off although the NRP’s Knesset faction is sharply critical of Mrs. Meir for indicating that Israel was prepared to give up the Samaria and Judaea regions on the West Bank within the framework of a peace settlement. The Orthodox MKs insist that those territories be retained on grounds that they were part of Israel during Biblical times and have religious significance. But the faction is expected to go along with its less militant leaders who hold three portfolios in Mrs. Meir’s coalition Cabinet and promised her their support yesterday. The Gahal opposition on the other hand has widened its split with Meir’s Labor Alignment on the territorial issue. Its motion of no confidence, and a similar motion filed yesterday by the smaller Free Center opposition faction, will be the main subjects of tomorrow’s Knesset debate. Mrs. Meir is expected to reply to the motions and to repeat what she told the London Times deputy editor Louis Heren in the interview. Gahal, and especially its hard-line Herut faction headed by Menachem Beigin, insist that Israel must make no territorial concessions on the West Bank which they regard as part of the nation’s heritage from Biblical times, though on nationalistic rather than religious grounds.
Herut has no proprietary feeling toward Sinai though some of its members believe it should belong to Israel by right of conquest. In that region, however, the faction is expected to go along with some territorial concessions based on political or strategic considerations. All factions apparently agree with Mrs. Meir’s interview statement that Israel must retain East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sharm el-Sheikh strong point in southern Sinai. But the Premier was vague on the subject of a land bridge between Israel’s southern borders and Sharm el-Sheikh and that in itself aroused the hackles of Gahal. Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir came to Mrs. Meir’s defense today. Speaking in Tel Aviv he professed astonishment at the criticism and declared that when everyone else is talking about maps, the Premier had a right to express her own opinions. “Those who are proposing a no confidence motion are apparently unaware of the overall position of our policy and security,” he said. Labor Party circles meanwhile rejected a proposal by Beigin that the Knesset dissolve itself to make way for new elections. The Laborites maintained that no national interests would be served by calling elections before they are due. Beigin, addressing settlers in the Beisan valley last night, said a motion to dissolve the Knesset would be presented to that body within the next two weeks, before it recesses for the Passover holiday.