JERUSALEM (Jun. 29)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin met today with top ministers and aides to examine the Egyptian response to Israel’s proposals for a second-stage agreement in an atmosphere of foreboding that a major confrontation appears in the making between Jerusalem and Washington.
Israel Radio reported yesterday that the United States is supporting Egypt’s demands and is demanding that Israel agree to them within two weeks or face a return to Geneva. Egypt’s position was given to Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz in meetings in Washington Friday with President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
Ford’s reported ultimatum has had a sobering and saddening effect on political circles here. The widespread feeling is that the “moment of truth” has arrived, sooner and more suddenly than expected. The crunch has been reached — as much in Jerusalem’s relations with Washington as on the Jerusalem-Cairo axis.
FURTHER CLARIFICATIONS DUE
The Cabinet after studying the Egyptian proposals for four hours today announced that Dinitz is being called home for consultations. A Cabinet statement said there would be further “clarifications” both in Jerusalem and Washington followed by additional discussions within the Cabinet.
The “clarifications” will be conducted by three Israeli negotiators — Rabin, Foreign Minister Yigal Allon and Defense Minister Shimon Peres, Officials stressed that Dinitz’s recall was not a sign of displeasure or confrontation with Washington, but had been ordered by Allon purely to help with the decision-making process.
But it has now become clear that the settlement negotiations will hinge on the Mitle and Gidi passes. Reports reaching here from Washington make it plain that Egypt has remained adamant in its insistence that Israel vacate the entire Passes area, and that Ford and Kissinger have thrown their own weight behind this Egyptian demand, pressing Israel to make this one major concession and thereby facilitate the successful conclusion of the negotiations.
Government officials here stress that Israel’s position to date remains that submitted by Rabin in Washington earlier this month: willingness to turn over the western part of the Passes to United Nations control, but refusal to vacate their eastern part. These officials refuse to state categorically that this position is unalterable. The fate of the negotiation, it now appears, will turn on the Cabinet’s decision on whether to soften somewhat Israel’s stand on the Passes.
Some ministers — including the two from Mapam, the two from the Independent Liberal Party and some Laborites — would, it is understood, favor some further concessions on the Passes, though no one in the Cabinet would advocate their total cession as Egypt demands.
SCENARIO TO BE CONSIDERED
One scenario which will be considered by the Cabinet this week involves symmetrical arrangement under which Israel would occupy the eastern entrances of the Passes and Egypt the western entrances, with the UNEF Forces interposed between them in the center of the Passes. Until now, Rabin has not been disposed to favor this scenario, but faced with intense and open American pressure, he may agree to this shift in the Israeli stand.
Under this plan, its advocates argue, Rabin could still claim with justice that Israel has maintained control of the eastern side of the Passes, Israel would urge a maximal interpretation of the concept of “entrances” (which was first mooted by Egypt during the March shuttle.) It is not clear now whether Egypt is presently disposed to go along with this scenario. Much would depend, it is believed, on whether Israel could persuade the U.S. of its viability and validity.
Nor is it clear whether this scenario — or some other symmetrical arrangement in the Passes — would gain majority approval in the Cabinet. Rabin’s own position would be crucial. If he decided to support such a plan now he could almost certainly take the majority of the ministers with him. If, however, he continued to oppose any further softening of the Israeli stance on the Passes, a sharp split could form within the Cabinet and even within the Labor Party’s bloc.
ALLON’S VIEW IS PIVOTAL.
The view of Foreign Minister Yigal Allon would then become critical. Allon, it is known, has believed until now that Israel could permit itself further concessions in the Passes (without ceding them altogether). If he takes this stand in opposition to the premier, he might draw considerable support from such doves as Housing Minister Avraham Ofer, Finance Minister Yehoshua Rabinowitz and Labor Minister Moshe Baram. His fellow Achdut Avoda Leader Yisrael Galili might also support him — and the decision would then turn on the narrowest of margins.
Allon’s close advisers were reluctant today to discuss these possibilities on the grounds that they were still “hypothetical”. Plainly, Allon would think long and hard before taking a stand against Rabin. On the other hand, if he did so he could certainly count on strong feeling among the doves of the coalition that a showdown with Washington must be avoided at almost any cost. A rupture would be disastrous economically, politically — and, ultimately, militarily too, the doves have been heard to argue.
Before the Cabinet meeting Rabin briefed opposition leaders Menahem Beigin and Elemelech Rimalt on the Egyptian response. Emerging from the meeting, Beigin told newsmen there indeed was American pressure being exerted on Israel to cede the eastern part of the Passes. Beigin termed the meeting “very important.” and said there would be another such meeting tomorrow. Also present was Yitzhak Navon, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Rabin is scheduled to brief the full committee tomorrow.
ISRAEL WILL NOT BE RUSHED
While government officials admitted yesterday that the first reading of the Egyptian response was “not encouraging,” they determinedly sought to avoid the impression of panic. Israel would not be rushed into taking up its position, they stressed. Egypt had taken several days to draft its response to the Israeli proposals, and the U.S. had taken several more days to transmit the Egyptian responses.
Israel, too, therefore, would need time to consider the issue in a serious and responsible manner, these officials said. There was no intention to deliberately stall, they continued. But Israel would not be hurried — even by Presidential ultimatums.