JERUSALEM (Nov. 12)
Israel’s extreme wariness over the six-point armistice agreement it signed with Egypt yesterday and the prospect of broader peace talks opening in the immediate future was expressed last night by Acting Prime Minister Yigal Allon. Negotiations with the Arabs will be “like walking through a mine field,” he warned on a television interview. He indicated that the Israeli and Egyptian interpretations of their six-point pact were still far apart and that there was no third party–meaning the U.S.–assurance that the Israeli interpretation will stand.
Allon said that the Egyptians are pressing for peace negotiations to begin in Dec., according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco who was here last Thursday after conferring with Egyptian officials in Cairo. Allon said he saw no reason why a preliminary round of talks could not be held in Dec. but made it clear that Israel could not possibly negotiate an overall settlement before the Knesset elections scheduled for Dec. 31. “The government requires a new mandate from the people in order to reach a settlement and a peace treaty,” Allon said. “On the other hand, I would not like to see us pass up opportunities to establish contacts on a political level.” The Likud opposition faction, meanwhile, served notice that it would vote against the government in tomorrow’s Knesset debate on the cease-fire and warned the government that it had no mandate to conduct “fateful negotiations.”
Allon’s remarks and Likud’s statement reflected the sudden reversal of positions in the Middle East. Israel, which has been insisting for years on peace negotiations with her neighbors, is moving with extreme caution, while Egypt, which had adhered stubbornly to the Khartoum formula of no negotiations and no peace, wants to go to the conference table at the earliest possible date. Egypt’s unexplained reversal has generated suspicion in Israel that the Egyptians may have received promises from U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger not reflected in the six-point formula accepted by both sides. Suspicion was deepened by Egypt’s sudden agreement last week to re-establish diplomatic relations with Washington. While there is admiration here for Dr. Kissinger’s diplomatic adroitness, there is also the recognition here that the U.S. is pursuing its own goals which may not be consonant with those of Israel.
The six-point agreement, ardently sought by Kissinger, left open points that Israel considers crucial, such as the prisoner of war exchange and Egypt’s blockade of the straits of Bab el Mandeb. The latter is not mentioned in the agreement, though Israel considers it implicit. Israel insists that the POW exchange must begin simultaneously with the replacement of Israeli forces by UN troops on the Suez-Cairo road checkpoints. The Egyptians believe otherwise and after two bargaining sessions between senior Israeli and Egyptian officers, the issue remained unresolved. The Bab el Mandeb blockade has not been lifted and Maariv said today that Israel will soon send a ship through the straits to test Egypt’s intentions.
Allon said there was no assurance of a third party to Egypt’s promises as Israel understood them. He stressed that “The main assurance is the balance of forces–our massive presence on the western bank of the Suez Canal and our good will.” Meanwhile, Israel is forced to maintain a military alert, he said. Another cause for Israel’s uneasiness was the prompt and unexpected support for the six-point pact expressed yesterday by the Palestinian terrorist leader Yassir Arafat. The El Fatah leader who also heads the Palestine Liberation Organization said in an interview in Damascus broadcast by the Hungarian State Radio in Budapest that the agreement was “based on a realistic policy” and “we will acknowledge it.” Asked if the Palestinians would participate in a peace conference, Arafat said, “I think that this would be the normal attitude, if we do not go to the conference, somebody else will go without us, for example, King Hussein.”
Asked whether the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a state, Arafat replied. “That depends on them (the Israelis) if they acknowledge the rights and sovereignty of the Palestine people, we will acknowledge Israel also.” While that remark may be interpreted as moderation on the part of a man who has consistently called for the destruction of the “Zionist state,” the Israelis have vowed never to negotiate with the terrorists. Nevertheless, diplomatic pressure is mounting for the inclusion of the Palestinians in any round table conference between Israel and the Arab states.
Added to Israel’s difficulties is the attitude of the – Likud opposition faction which announced, before the ink was dry on the armistice agreement, that it could not support the government’s acceptance of it. A Likud statement issued late last night claimed that “the Kissinger-Sadat agreement does not insure the release of all Israeli POWs and contains no commitment for complete removal of the Bab el Mandeb blockade. But the agreement does provide for unlimited supplies for the Egyptian Third Army and a discussion on an Israeli pullback to the Oct. 22 lines which means lifting encirclement.” Likud also reminded the government that the term of the present Knesset expired at the end of Oct. and was artificially extended only because of the war. “The government has no authority to commit the people…with decisions on the future of the land of Israel and our national security,” the statement said.
Appearing on the TV program with Allon, Likud leader Elimelech Rimalt charged that Israel had been rushed into the agreement without a proper examination of its terms. The Likud view was reflected in other quarters here where the feeling is that Israel is no longer the complete master of its fate and is being swept along on the currents of Big Power diplomacy. Allon referred to the Big
Power role when he said it would be logical if the Soviet Union restored diplomatic relations with Israel before offering its good offices toward peace negotiations, just as the U.S. has restored relations with Egypt. But, he said, the resumption of relations with Russia was not, in Israel’s view, a precondition for accepting its offices. He added that the government has not yet debated the subject. But he ruled out UN Security Council auspices for peace talks–mentioned in Resolution 338 of Oct. 22 – “because of its unfriendly parliamentary composition.”