JERUSALEM (Oct. 22)
Defense Minister Shimon Peres has stirred a controversy within the government by his statement yesterday that the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem were an inseparable single unit whose political future was inextricably linked. Peres made that remark at a question and answer session in Bethlehem sponsored by the mayor of the Arab tow, Elias Freij.
The Israeli defense chief warned the local population against cooperating with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He said he was aware that there was local sympathy for the PLO but cautioned that such a path could lead only to war and Soviet penetration of the area. Peres noted the growing number of terrorist incidents in Bethlehem and declared that “Israel will not permit a small extremist group of war-mongers to jeopardize the well-being of a town located at the approaches to Jerusalem.”
Peres’ assertion that Jerusalem and Bethlehem were a single unit raised some eyebrows in Cabinet circles today. Several ministerial “doves” asserted that Peres’ view was not official government policy and said they intended to raise the issue at the next Cabinet meeting. Peres’ aides were reported to have explained, unconvincingly. that the Defense Minister was referring only to tourism links.
SPECULATION ABOUT ALLON’S STATEMENT
Meanwhile, political observers here were speculating over the probable intent of Foreign Minister Yigal Allon’s remark in the Knesset yesterday that if the upcoming Arab summit meeting in Rabat blocks further political negotiations, Israel would “find a way to ensure our political and security interests while doing justice to the Arab population in the areas.”
According to some observers, Allon was hinting that Israel not only had the ability to maintain the military status quo but also had various options for solving the West Bank issue. One such option. sources here said, would be to seek a dialogue with moderate West Bank leaders with a view toward establishing some degree of autonomy for Arabs on the West Bank. Such a policy was advocated by Allon shortly after the Six-Day War but was rejected by the Cabinet of Premier Levi Eshkol at the time.
Aides of the Foreign Minister said today that they did not rule it out as a possibility if and when the Rabat summit killed prospects for further talks with Egypt. Jordan and Syria. However, they said it was premature to engage in such speculation. They confirmed that Allon’s intention was to warn the Arab leaders who will meet in the Moroccan capital Oct. 26, not to try to freeze the negotiating process.