Rabin Cautious, Circumspect Regarding Egypt’s Terms for a New Interim Settlement

The position Premier Yitzhak Rabin takes on Egypt’s proposals for a new interim settlement–which the U.S. is openly urging Israel to accept to keep negotiations alive–probably will be decisive in shaping the Cabinet’s fateful decision which may or may not come this Sunday. But as of today, Rabin’s views were still unclear and the subject of fierce speculation in political circles here.

The Premier addressed a closed meeting of the Labor Alignment’s Knesset faction this afternoon, As they emerged from the meeting, the Labor “hawks” said Rabin was leaning toward their position that Israel’s retention of the strategic Sinai passes was preferable to an accommodation with Washington.

Labor “doves,” on the other hand, said they detected an inclination by the Premier to the view that a confrontation with Washington must be avoided at all costs, even at the expense of the passes, All who attended the meeting agreed that Rabin presented detailed arguments for and against accepting Egypt’s terms–withdrawal from the Gidi and Mitle Passes and the Abu Rodeis oilfields–that was a masterpiece of cautious and circumspect formulation. But he did not commit himself one way or the other.

RISKS OF SAYING ‘NO’ TO WASHINGTON

The Premier reportedly stressed to his Alignment colleagues the risks of saying “no” to Washington. He mentioned specifically the issue of arms supplies and the prospect that, failing an interim accord, the U.S. would go to Geneva and there present an overall plan of its own without prior coordination with Israel. Rabin also apparently took President Ford at his word when the latter denied that he had delivered an “ultimatum” to Israel. The Premier said that while there certainly were differences with the U.S. it was over-dramatic to speak of a “crisis.”

Defense Minister Shimon Peres, addressing the same meeting, clearly seemed to advocate rejection of the Egyptian terms. On the other hand, former Minister of Information and former chief of military intelligence Gen. Aharon Yariv urged “territorial flexibility” on the issue of the passes, while at the same time declaring that Israel must stand firm in its demands for meaningful political concessions from Egypt in the form of “components of non-belligerency.”

The Labor Alignment meeting was called for an exchange of views and information rather than to make decisions. The Premier suggested that the Labor Party and Mapam forums meet separately to decide their positions. He did not say whether these meetings would take place before or after next Sunday’s Cabinet session. A complicating factor is Rabin’s scheduled visit to West Germany from Tuesday through Friday of next week.

It was unclear today whether the Cabinet and the various coalition partners would be called upon to reach their final positions before or after the Premier’s trip, indicating that next Sunday’s Cabinet meeting may, in fact, not be the decisive one.

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