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Clarification of Non-belligerency

Government ministers and other officials were busy over the weekend trying to clarify for a generally sceptical public the meaning of non-belligerency, a term that has suddenly emerged in the forefront of Middle East diplomacy. The Cabinet agreed last Sunday to assent to an American initiative to test the attitudes of Egypt, Syria and Jordan toward non-belligerence which would seem to be something more than the present military disengagements and considerably less than a formal political peace.

Justice Minister Chaim Zadok, addressing members of the Tel Aviv Bar, explained that international law recognized two situations–state of war and state of peace. He said that if Israel reached agreement with the Arabs on cessation of the state of war “I shall regard this as a most important achievement.”

Zadok said that an end of war in terms of international law was a condition of peace. Although there are various degrees ranging from the close cooperation between the Benelux countries to the “cold war” that characterized U.S. Soviet relations for many years, the common denominator was the non-use of armed force. What Israel has had with its neighbors up to now has been a temporary cessation of hostilities in the form of armistices, cease-fires or separation of forces agreements. Non-belligerency, Zadok said, would represent an important further and more permanent step toward peace.

ORIGINATED WITH AMERICANS

Zadok said there was no reason to deny that the idea of this new approach originated with the Americans. “I can’t see why we should not allow the Americans to explore this avenue, little as I believe it can produce. But before they embark on this road, we must make sure the Americans understand the term exactly as we do,” Zadok said.

Government sources disclosed last week that U.S. and Israeli experts would try to reach agreement on a definition of non-belligerency before the U.S. undertook its initiative, a process which, the sources said, could take weeks or months.

Transport Minister Gad Yaacobi told the Press Club here that as early as last March the government was pondering the question of non-belligerency as one of several possible conditions for the region. He said Attorney General Meir Shamgar. now a Supreme Court Justice, defined the basic differences between non-belligerence and the undertakings by Egypt to refrain from warlike acts as part of the disengagement of forces agreement.

Amon Eran, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a meeting of the Tel Aviv Labor Council that an Israeli declaration in favor of non-belligerence was important for the nation’s image as one open to all peace initiatives.

But former Foreign Minister Abba Eban continued to voice his opposition to the American initiative. Speaking over the army radio, Eban reiterated that a non-belligerency agreement would leave Israel with little bargaining leverage for a formal peace. He noted that the Arabs are already demanding total withdrawal from all occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for non-belligerence. In return for a real peace they would demand all that is left of Israel, Eban said.

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