JERUSALEM (May. 11)
A furore raged in Israel today over former Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s assertion that Israel was to blame for the breakdown of the bilateral Israeli-Egyptian talks conducted by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in March. Eban, who only recently was one of the prominent Israeli personalities who volunteered to go abroad to explain Israel’s position at public forums blasted the Rabin government in an interview published Friday in Maariv for harboring “unrealistic expectations” and making demands on Egypt for non-belligerency which it should have known Egypt would not accept.
He maintained that “even though the final version” of the proposed second-stage agreement that Kissinger urged Israel to accept “was bad, the government should have accepted it and not forced the negotiations to collapse,” Eban said that Israel should have followed that course if only out of consideration for its bilateral relations with the United States and to keep up the momentum of peace negotiations.
There was no official reaction to Eban’s remarks from government sources, But the former Foreign Minister and Labor MK was bitterly assailed today by Meir Zarmi, secretary-general of the Labor Party, and Leon Dulzin, Jewish Agency Treasurer and a leader of the opposition Likud, Zarmi said he found Eban’s behavior “unsuitable to the responsibility of his standing and position.”
Dulzin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that Eban’s Maariv interview “was actually a gift he gave to (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat and all our adversaries in the world.” Dulzin, who just returned from a World Jewish Congress meeting in London, said the Eban interview presented “an informational problem” for Israel abroad.
TALKS BEGAN ON ‘WRONG FOOT’
Zarmi noted that the Labor Party Central Committee had passed a resolution endorsing the government’s position in the Kissinger talks which placed full responsibility on Egypt for their collapse. He said that if Eban had reservations about the government’s position he should have expressed his views within the party’s forums.
Eban told Maariv that he had always opposed attempts for an interim settlement with Egypt because he felt that the disposition of such vital strategic assets as the Mitle and Gidi Passes and the Abu Rodeis oil fields in Sinai should be negotiated only within the context of an overall peace settlement. But once the government had decided to go along with Kissinger’s step-by-step approach it should have accepted the accord proposed by Kissinger rather than foil the talks and cause a crisis in Jerusalem-Washington relations.
“The negotiations under the mediation of Dr. Kissinger began on the wrong foot,” Eban said in the interview, “The (Israeli) government had unrealistic expectations that Egypt would agree to end its state of belligerency, something Egypt could not agree to, and thus it was not possible at the end of the negotiations to reach an agreement,” Eban was quoted as saying. The agreement may have been “poorly drafted” but it could have been accepted with its imperfections and compensated for in the context of U.S.-Israeli relations, Eban said.
RIFT WITH WASHINGTON A GRAVE MATTER
Eban compared the present government’s diplomatic record, which he termed stagnant with that of the previous government in which he had served as Foreign Minister. He said the latter’s performance between November 1973 and May 1974, during which time cease-fire agreements and disengagement accords were concluded with Egypt and Syria ending the Yom Kippur War, was a “golden period” in Israeli diplomacy, replete with agreements and political movement.
Eban warned the government that it was mistakenly playing down the current rift with Washington which he viewed as a grave matter. He observed that during his tenure as Foreign Minister, relations had been such that when American sought to sell arms to Jordan it first sought Israel’s approval and understanding.
In contrast, he said, the U.S. arms deal with Jordan last week had followed no such prior consultation with Israel. He was referring to the disclosure last week that the U.S. has agreed to sell Jordan a $100 million “Hawk” anti-aircraft missile defense system and other weapons. Israel lodged a formal protest. Eban said that similar to the arms deal with Jordan, the meeting between President Ford and President Anwar Sadat June 1 will not be preceded, by all accounts, by prior U.S.-Israeli consultations.
HAD EARLIER BLAMED EGYPT FOR BREAKDOWN
Observers here noted that immediately after the breakdown of the Kissinger talks, Eban expressed views quite opposite to those he advanced in the Maariv interview. At that time he firmly blamed Egypt for the collapse of the negotiations and said the Israeli government had no option but to reject the final Egyptian proposals transmitted by Kissinger. Asked how he could logically have accepted the government’s request that he travel to the U.S. and Europe to “explain” a policy that he opposed, Eban said:
“I told those who made the request that I would not say things I didn’t believe in….I argued that in matters of national security of Israel the final sovereign decision must rest with the Israel government, I also stressed that the hoped-for interim agreement would not have been so important as to merit the melancholy and anger which its non-attainment occasioned. Even had it been attained, the resumption of Geneva would have soon followed.”
Eban said he had stressed that argument at his meeting with Kissinger and had urged the Secretary to look to the months ahead, not the weeks that had passed. He said he also warned that any rift or semblance of a rift between Israel and the U.S. would encourage Arab intransigence and adventurism. He said the government apparently felt that it was worth calling on his services even though he did not entirely endorse its position.
Eban refused to be drawn by Maariv into commenting on his personal political ambitions. The time was not ripe and the leadership is not presently up for contest, he said, But observers here nevertheless viewed the tone and content of his remarks to Maariv as a direct challenge to Premier Yitzhak Rabin for national and Labor Party leadership.
There will be no bulletin dated May 26 due to Memorial Day, a postal holiday.