JERUSALEM (Sep. 3)
A substantial vote in favor of the new interim agreement with Egypt seemed assured late tonight as the Knesset continued to debate the issue with the same fervor that marked the session when it convened early in the day. The outcome of today’s debate was assured last night after the Labor Party’s Central Committee and Labor’s coalition partners, the National Religious Party and the Independent Liberals voted overwhelmingly at separate caucuses in Tel Aviv to support the pact. At today’s Knesset debate the galleries were packed with the press and public and virtually every MK was present for the historic special session, but there was little tension or suspense.
Premier Yitzhak Rabin, who led off the Knesset debate, stressed the political significance of the accord and the fact that Egypt’s undertakings were “stated categorically, contractually and publicly.” in contrast to similar undertakings given in the past which simply referred to United Nations resolutions. He said that Israel decided to sign the pact ” because of our conviction that progress with Egypt is possible and should not be postponed solely because developments on other fronts, including an offensive initiative against Israel, might under-mine the agreement and the stability which will have been achieved.”
The Premier also stressed that “at the end of the discussions full understanding was achieved with the U.S. on a diverse series of issues–an understanding that will enable us to receive the continuous assistance of the U.S. in the process of strengthening and consolidating Israel through the purchase of sophisticated weapons…as well as in high, important political subjects deriving from interests common to Israel and the U.S. in regional and international contexts.”
NO PARALLEL WITH VIETNAM
Regarding Israel’s return of the Abu Rodeis oilfields to Egypt, one of the main points of criticism by opponents of the pact, Rabin observed that “Israel never regarded Abu Rodeis as its eternal heritage… We did not relinquish it before assuring the supply and storage of fuel required by Israel.” That remark was seen as an implicit confirmation of reports that the U.S. has committed itself to cover Israel’s loss of Abu Rodeis oil and to help build massive subterranean oil reservoirs in the Negev.
Rabin also rejected any parallel between the agreement’s provisions for American civilian technicians to man an advanced warning radar post in Sinai the American presence in Vietnam a decade ago. He told the Knesset that in the event of war, Israel expected no American presence in Sinai.
DAYAN RAPS SINAI PACT
The most vigorous opposition to the pact was voiced by former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan of the Labor Party and Likud opposition leader Menachem Beigin, Dayan “apologized” to his Labor colleagues for not joining them in favor of the interim agreement. “Unlike my friends. I cannot be flexible and vote now in favor of a settlement which I opposed in March,” Dayan said in an obvious slap at the Rabin government.
Dayan quoted from the Premier’s speech to the Knesset last March in which he expressed surprise that Egypt had the temerity to demand the return of the Abu Rodeis oilfields and the Sinai passes without ending its state of belligerency.
The basis of Dayan’s arguments against the pact was that Israel should have striven for a general settlement instead of an interim accord. “There will be no end to belligerency without the USSR.” he said, and observed that if Syria agreed to end belligerency, Israel should agree to more than just “cosmetic changes.” Dayan said he was against the interim agreement essentially because it was not an agreement in which Israel made concessions in return for substantial Egyptian quid pro quo, but in which Israel withdraws in return for American compensations. It is not good when the Americans pay instead of the Egyptians, Dayan said.
BEIGIN CITES U.S. PRESSURE
Beigin took much the same line as Dayan, charging that the Rabin government had collapsed under American pressure and warned that new American pressure was imminent for more Israeli withdrawals. Like Dayan, Beigin quoted earlier statements by the Premier, including one to the Knesset last February and an interview on ABC television pledging not to cede the Sinai passes or the oilfields without a declaration of non-belligerency by Egypt.
Beigin charged that by signing the pact without Egypt’s rejection of belligerency, Israel was implicitly endorsing Cairo’s assertion that the state of war continues and was wasting the fruits of Israel’s 1967 victory. “It is a step not toward peace, but toward further pressures.” Beigin claimed.
NEW LINES FACILITATE DEFENSE
Rabin’s speech urging Knesset approval of the interim accord was low-keyed and the Premier did not attempt to “oversell” the pact his government had signed. His tone reflected the remarks of former Premier Golda Meir who said, after the agreement was initialed, that it should be greeted “not with fanfare, but also not with a feeling of mourning.” Rabin said he could not claim that the new lines were better than the old ones and he did not make light of the Israeli withdrawal. But “the considerations of Israel’s security are complex and they cannot be restricted to the question of territory alone.” he stated.
Rabin said the new line was “firm” and facilitated both defense and attack. He said that Israel’s army would be strengthened so that “from the point of view of overall security considerations, Israel will be stronger after the agreement both politically and militarily.”
“The agreement with Egypt.” the Premier said. “is a very hopeful event. Its principal significance is saliently political. Its principal content is that the agreement has been achieved that force and fighting will no longer characterize Israel-Egyptian relations…A contractual and public agreement has been achieved that both countries are firm in their resolve to reach a final and just peace through negotiations.”
Rabin added that he did “not attribute to the President of Egypt violations of Arab solidarity. but a realistic approach, namely that an agreement with Israel should not be delayed because of what happens in Israel’s relations with other Arab countries.” He observed that “The political significance is the essence of the agreement we have signed and is the main quid pro quo for the concessions we made and for its sake it was worth our while to take reasonable risks.”
PACT HAS SEEDS OF NEW RELATIONS
The Premier affirmed that while the negotiations leading to the agreement had highlighted the yawning gulf of hostility and suspicion, the agreement contains “the seeds of relations which did not exist before,” especially the provisions for a permanent joint commission and for the shared use of the Abu Rodeis road which could help develop a “new atmosphere.”
Rabin said that he was not appearing before the Knesset as a celebrant, “nor as one who doffs his armor. Israel will continue to look to her defenses…If Egypt really wants peace, Israel will be willing to replace the present agreement with a final peace agreement with all the territorial changes required in this, including the army’s deployment on permanent defensible borders.”
SUBSTANTIAL MARGIN FOR ACCORD
Late tonight the Knesset approved the Israeli-Egyptian Sinai agreement with a vote of 70-43 with seven abstentions.