Begin, Allon Clash in Knesset Debate on Palestinian Issue

Premier Menachem Begin and former Foreign Minister Yigal Allon clashed today in a short, but lively, debate over what type of consensus there is in Israel on the Palestinian question.

Begin said the opposition Labor Alignment agreed with the government that Israel should not negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization nor approve a Palestinian state on the West Bank, so there was no need for today’s special Knesset session which the alignment had requested. Allon agreed there was a consensus on this but said the government refused to consider any positive solution to the problem, such as in the context of Jordan, and thus could not claim to represent a national consensus.

The Premier launched the debate by urging the Labor Alignment to give its support to the government if and when it is faced with a demand to accept the PLO in the peace process. “There is a national consensus rejecting this demand,” Begin declared. A “responsible opposition” should therefore back the government over so central and crucial an issue, he said.

“But if you do not, we shall continue on our course regardless,” Begin told the Laborite MKs on the special debate on the government’s handling of the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance last week. “The people gave us its mandate on May 17 to pursue our policies according to our beliefs, and rejected your policies,” Begin said.

STILL NO TO PLO

The Premier stressed, as he had during the Vance visit, that Israel had not been asked by the U.S. to accept the PLO as a negotiating partner. “But if we are, we shall reply, politely but firmly, no,” he declared. “Nor do you think we ought to answer otherwise,” The Premier said to the Labor MKs. “Why, then, have you called this special session of the House?”

Allon declared that Begin was “sidestepping the issue” and misstating the nature of the “national consensus.” There was a consensus, he said, against talking to the PLO and against a Palestinian state on the West Bank. He said Begin and his government refused to consider a positive solution of the Palestinian question in the context of Jordan, and thus could not claim to represent the national consensus.

Begin retorted that the previous governments had tried and failed for 10 years to persuade the U.S. of the virtues of its unofficially endorsed “Allon Plan” for a West Bank settlement–” and now you want me to go to Washington and argue for that same policy. Well, we have our own policy….The people expressed their non-confidence in your policy.”

CHARGES BEGIN DUCKED ISSUES

Allon replied: “You didn’t even argue (with President Carter) over your policy. You ducked a dialogue, dodged a frank discussion of the issues with the U.S. President, achieved momentary rapport at the cost of long-term disharmony.”

Allon had warned earlier, in calling for the special session, that as a result of the government’s policy Israel might find itself totally isolated at Geneva, without having sought prior coordination of its positions with Washington, while the U.S., the Soviet Union and the Arabs would all be “coordinated” against Israel. He cited Carter’s interviews with Time magazine last week and with ABC-TV yesterday to corroborate his implicit claim that the U.S. was sliding away from Israel. (See separate story on Carter and ABC-TV interview.)

INSISTS ISSUES WERE DISCUSSED

Begin insisted that he had discussed both the procedure and the substance of Mideast peacemaking with Carter and had not sought to hide the differences of opinion which certainly did exist. But, he noted, these differences had mostly existed under the Labor government too.

The Premier spoke of a “document” which he had read and which contained a report of the Rabin-Carter conversation last March in Washington. In this, Begin said, Carter called for PLO participation in the peace process, for a Palestinian homeland and for Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.

He noted that former Premier Yitzhak Rabin had for a month after not divulged the document even to then Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Allon, and never to the Cabinet or the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “I request you to disclose the document now to the committee,” Rabin shouted from his seat. Begin replied, “I will. But this story attests to the nature of relationships within the old government.” It also attested, said Begin, to the fact that the old government sought to cover up the deep divisions that existed between it and Washington and to falsely claim that such differences as existed were the results of the new government’s policy.

NEXT STORY