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Ministers Query Official ‘optimism’

Several ministers queried the “optimism” that has been reflected by Israeli media this past week in connection with the interim settlement negotiations. At a five-hour Cabinet session last night, these ministers–mostly on the “hawkish” wing of the Cabinet–said the optimism was not borne out by the facts as they now heard them. Furthermore, it was tactically unwise to evince optimism when the talks were still unconcluded.

The criticism of the media was by implication a criticism of Premier Yitzhak Rabin and the ministerial negotiating team since it was apparent to all that the media’s optimism had been guided by official briefings. Some “doveish” ministers, on the other hand, seemed comfortable with the expressions of optimism–and indeed felt confident that the settlement talks were nearing a successful conclusion.

The Cabinet unanimously approved the Israeli responses forwarded earlier by the negotiating team through Washington. But Cabinet sources warned that the differences over tactics could become differences over substance as the talks moved into their crucial phase, Both “hawks” and “doves” predicted, however, that if there were a split, Rabin and the Cabinet majority would side with them. They noted, too, that at yesterday’s session no differing positions had explicitly been adopted, either by members of the negotiating team or by other ministers (beyond the criticism of the undue “optimism.”)

THE IMAGINARY AND THE REAL

One “hawk” said he felt the “movement” by Egypt referred to with enthusiasm by some Israeli officials was more imaginary than real. There had been a climbing-down–but from positions which had been deliberately formulated to be excessive and near-ridiculous. Wide gaps still remained on crucial issues, this “hawk” insisted. Listing some of these, he noted:

Israel and Egypt are still far apart on the question of an Israeli presence at Umm Hashiba, the main Sinai listening station; Egypt still rejects Israel’s proposal for a substantial American force at Umm Hashiba and other stations; Egypt prefers a small American contingent with severely limited functions; Egypt insists on a small force of its soldiers being stationed inside the Mitle and Gidi Passes; Egypt demands that its front line be advanced several kilometers east of the present buffer zone (which Israel has rejected); and Egypt still demands a wider corridor along the Gulf of Suez coast than Israel has offered.

TALKS NOT YET 90% CERTAIN

The Cabinet did not discuss Secretary of State Henry A, Kissinger’s widely reported desire to begin a shuttle trip to wind up the negotiations on or about Aug. 20. There was apparently some concern that the talks would not yet have reached the “ninety percent certainty” stage by then that Kissinger has demanded before he undertakes a shuttle. One well-placed observer noted that if Kissinger decides to come, Israel can hardly demur.

But officials here stressed that the assessment of the situation–in percentage points of success likelihood–must be the Secretary’s own. There is plainly a sense of apprehension here lest Kissinger come, shuttle, depart without an agreement, and again blame Israel for the failure.

AIM OF MISSION TO WASHINGTON

Meanwhile, Jerusalem is awaiting word from Cairo, through Washington, of Egypt’s response to Israel’s latest “clarifications” transmitted over the weekend. Officials say they will be able to better predict the Kissinger trip once these responses are known. The mission by Mordechai Gazit, director general of the Premier’s Office, and Meir Rosenne, legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry to Washington, revealed in the U.S. capital over the weekend, is intended to work on formulations in the agreement, mainly with regard to the legal and political aspects (rather than the military and territorial) of the pact.

Gazit and Rosenne will also draw up a number of accords with the U.S.–some of them to remain unpublished–which are seen here as the more significant part of Israel’s quid pro quo for its sacrifices in Sinai.

Before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, ministers and officials drank a toast to Gazit–who is ending his term as the Premier’s director general and political advisor, and to his successor, 39-year-old Amos Eran, who takes over this week, Gazit is expected to be named Ambassador to Paris.

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