PARIS (Feb. 23)
Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban said last night that there were two concrete issues that could be the starting point for peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt–Sharm el-Sheikh and the establishment of a balance of forces in the Middle East. But he said the responsibility for starting peace talks belonged to Egypt since it was that country that initiated the belligerency of 1967. Eban made his remarks in a 45-minute telephone interview with six senior French journalists which was broadcast by Inter-Paris, the most popular French radio network shortly before the main evening news broadcast.
The interview was wide-ranging and included an admission by Eban that there have been unofficial contacts between Israel and the Soviet Union but that there could be no improvement in relations between the two countries as long as Moscow persisted in its anti-Israel policies.
Eban also dismissed China as a “decisive factor in the Middle East” and observed that “the really important Nixon talks on the Middle East are not taking place in Peking” but “will be taking place soon in Moscow,” a reference to President Nixon’s summit visit to the Soviet capital this May. As far as the Middle East is concerned “there are only two powers which count, the United States and the Soviet Union,” Eban said.
The Interview was the first appearance by a prominent Israeli statesman or public personality on the French radio in recent years. It seemed to indicate a change in form, if not in content, of French policy toward Israel. But the Israeli Foreign Minister was not optimistic about the future of Franco-Israeli relations and listed the serious obstacles in the way of improvement.
POWER BALANCE THROUGH DEMILITARIZATION
Eban said that peace talks with Egypt hinged on two “crucial” points. The balance of power, he said, could be advanced appreciably through demilitarization of the Sinai peninsula. “A lot depends on the Egyptians. If they show themselves supple and conciliatory an agreement on borders can also be arranged,” he said. He said, however, that Israel must retain permanent control of Sharm el-Sheikh in view of what happened in 1967. “We have told this to Egypt in the past and we shall continue to tell her so frankly,” Eban said.
He said that Egypt now commands the necessary prestige to enable it to initiate peace talks and is recognized in this position by both the US and the Soviet Union. He said that Russia’s position is somewhat changed as Moscow now agrees that there can be no Israeli withdrawal without “a real peace being signed.” But the Soviet Union still blocks a solution by opposing “territorial negotiations,” he added. Eban said, “I would much prefer a change of Soviet policy without secret contacts than secret contacts and no change of Russian policy.” He said that China’s presence in the Middle East was mainly in the field of propaganda.
OBSTACLES TO ISRAELI-FRANCO AMITY
Referring to Israel’s problems with France, Eban said he was a “realist,” and that while the friction point of the Mirage dispute has now been solved, there are still two major obstacles in the way of improved Franco-Israeli relations. One is France’s refusal to agree to Israel’s request to come to an agreement with the European Common Market which would safeguard its exports to Europe.
The other is that France is the only West European country that has expressly stated that Israel should “evacuate all the occupied territories.” According to Eban, “Such a prerequisite cuts off the venue to all possible compromise solutions and this actually prevents a start to negotiations.”
Asked about the Palestinian problem, Eban said that “had to be settled by the Arabs themselves.” He observed that “as far as Israel is concerned, we would be glad to live alongside a Palestinian state but this is for them to decide, not for us.” Eban claimed that the Soviet Union “has decided to allow Jewish emigration for two reasons: because it has come to realize that it cannot smother by force their Jewishness and because of the intensity of protests throughout the world’s progressive circles about this issue.”