JERUSALEM (Aug. 28)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres, two of the three-man team negotiating the proposed second Sinai interim accord, began yesterday the effort to win solid public support for the still uncompleted agreement. The effort by Rabin and Peres was a two-pronged one–as much to assure a Knesset vote of approval when it meets next week on the accord as to win over public opinion, which appeared to be growing in favor of the new accord.
The latest public opinion poll, conducted by the Institute of Applied Social Research and the Hebrew University Mass Communications Institute, showed 55 percent of Israelis supporting the new interim accord, 38 percent opposed and 17 percent having no opinion.
Rabin and Peres, appearing before the Labor Party’s Knesset faction and leadership bureau in Tel Aviv, opened their campaign with a vigorous defense of the proposed pact in the form of an attack on the anti-pact views of former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan but without mentioning him by name.
Dayan was not present at the meeting but it was clear from the tone and content of the statements by Rabin and Peres that Dayan’s influence carried weight even in his absence. Most of the arguments in favor of the accord were in the form of arguments in favor of the accord were in the form of rebuttal to Dayan’s position, Dayan’s supporters in the Labor Party maintained silence except for Mordechai Ben Porat, a right-wing member of Dayan’s old Raff faction, who said plainly he would vote against the accord when it is presented to the Knesset.
NEW LINE IS NO ENDANGERMENT
Rabin recalled that the prior government, in which Dayan was Defense Minister, had proposed in 1970 and 1971 an Israeli withdrawal of substantial depth from the Suez Canal in return for a two-year cease-fire agreement from Egypt. He conceded the new line in the proposed second accord was not as good as the present line but that it would, nevertheless, provide Israel with both offensive and defensive options. He said the Israeli army would patrol the controlling heights to make sure Egyptian forces would not penetrate the Mitle and Gidi Passes. He added that the new accord would not require more Israeli troops to man the new lines.
Rabin also argued that with Egypt so anxious to get the oil from the Abu Rodeis oilfields, to be returned to Egypt under the new accord, the presence of Israeli troops only a few miles away from the fields would be a guarantee that Egyptian forces would not violate the agreement. Finally, Rabin declared, Israel would now need six times as much weaponry as before the Yom Kippur War, a fact which could not be ignored in negotiations with the United States, the main supplier of such arms.
Peres denounced Dayan’s argument that if Israel made greater concessions, it would probably receive from the Arabs more concessions, essentially a commitment to non-belligerence. Peres retorted that even if Israel had pulled back farther into the Sinai, the Arabs would not have ended the state of war. He added, “I back the Sinai agreement because I use no choice.” He justified Israel’s taking United States views into consideration, declaring that “a Premier who cannot say no to the United States is bad, but so is a Premier who only says no.”
PREPARING FOR KNESSET SESSION
The meeting yesterday was also part of the Labor Party’s preparation for the Knesset session next week where the new pact will have to be approved. The Labor Party’s powerful central committee was expected before then, to approve the government’s stand and commit Labor MKs to vote for it.
Knesset members now overseas have been contacted to return to Israel promptly to obtain a large majority for the accord. Despite the announcements by Dayan and Ben Porat that they would vote no, Labor Party Secretary Meir Zarmi said today he was confident that once the central committee made its decision, no Labor MK would violate party discipline.
Rabin also met with the 300 members of the United Jewish Appeal Prime Minister’s Mission and told them that Israel was facing one of the most crucial moments in its history and that he was confident that Israel was choosing, through the new Sinai accord, the correct path toward gradual progress toward peace. During a dinner in the Knesset last night with Rabin the 300 Mission participants made a total pledge of $12 million.
BATTLE FOR PUBLIC OPINION
The battle for public opinion continued, Dovish activists countered anti-pact right-wing demonstrations last night by placing large piles of sand in front of the homes of Knesset members from the opposition Likud and National Religious Party, and in front of Herut and Gush Emunim offices. On top of each sandpile were thrust posters. A typical poster message was “Enjoy your private security hill but don’t send us to die there.” Tonight an estimated 20,000 opponents, most of them members of the Gush Emunim, staged a protest march through Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv some 10,000 members of Mapam held a counter-rally.
Meanwhile, there were signs that Labor’s position was being strengthened. One of the Labor MKs expressing doubts at the Tel Aviv meeting was Police Minister Shlomo Hillel, but he and other doubters indicated they would not break party discipline when the time came to vote, Mapam, a member of the Labor Alignment, and its Kibbutz Haartzi movement, are supporting the government on the accord.
Labor’s position in the forthcoming Knesset test was also strengthened by the decision of the Yaad Party, comprising dissident Arye Eliav and the Citizens Rights Party, to restrict the fiery Eliav, thus ensuring at least three more Knesset votes for the accord, Moked, a left-wing group, decided its one Knesset member would not oppose the government if it faced the danger of defeat. The position of Rakah, the pro-Soviet party, remained uncertain. Its leader, Meir Wilner, returned Tuesday from a Soviet vacation, presumably familiar with the latest Soviet thinking on the accord and will lead the four-man Knesset faction accordingly.
Observers said the opposition Likud Party could probably count on all of its 39 votes against the accord, plus the two NRP “Young Guard” MKs and other coalition rebels. Observers agreed that while the vote may be close, a victory for the Rabin government appeared assured.