JERUSALEM (Nov. 13)
Premier Menachem Begin is expected to extend a formal invitation to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to come to Israel to discuss peace when he appears in the Knesset tomorrow or Tuesday. Begin said on two occasions over the weekend that he was prepared to welcome the Egyptian leader here. His remarks were in response to Sadat’s assertion to the Egyptian parliament last week and to a group of visiting American Congressmen that he was prepared to go to Israel and address the Knesset if that would further the cause of peace in the Middle East.
While Begin greeted Sadat’s initiative in the warmest terms and appeared, at least publicly, to take it as an expression of good faith, there is widespread suspicion in Israeli circles that the Egyptian President is engaging in an intricate propaganda ploy from which he believes he could extricate himself without losing face.
The Foreign Ministry’s reaction to Sadat was somewhat more restrained than Begin’s. A Ministry spokesman said today that “We will welcome a visit by President Sadat which would contribute psychologically to a better atmosphere for negotiations as well as create a practical dialogue. It should not, however, replace a peace conference where Israel wishes to negotiate with all the confrontation states regarding all the subjects on which we have differences.”
(In Washington Friday, the State Department responded to the Begin-Sadat exchange by saying it “welcomes consultation between parties” in the Middle East but “the important thing is to have a Geneva conference. Department spokesman Ken Brown said “certainly we take them seriously” when asked to evaluate the remarks by Begin and Sadat.)
Begin addressed himself to the Egyptian people at a press conference Friday when he said “We, the people of Israel, extend our hand to you and as you know, it is not a weak hand.” He called on them to end 29 years of conflict in the Middle East and concluded, “I am telling you with all my heart, Shalom.” Last night addressing a dinner for Israel soldiers welfare at the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel, Begin said “In the name of the government of Israel I hereby officially invite the Egyptian President Sadat to come to Jerusalem to conduct talks on permanent peace between Israel and Egypt.” He ended his statement with the Arabic greeting, “Ahalan wa Sahalan–be our guest, you will be most welcome.”
On Thursday, Begin told 14 members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee now visiting the Middle East that he would personally greet Sadat at the airport and escort him to Jerusalem if the Egyptian leader comes to Israel.
SADAT’S STATEMENT WAS SURPRISE
Sadat’s initial statement took officials here by surprise and the tendency was to dismiss it as a propaganda “gimmick.” After the Egyptian President met with the U.S. Congressmen Friday, the reaction here was that his intentions are still not clear. Some sources said Sadat was not serious and would find a way to withdraw his offer of a visit. On the other hand, the sources said that if that estimate is wrong, Israel will do nothing to discourage a visit from Sadat.
But the fear here is that Sadat is simply trying to exploit sentiment for peace by picturing himself as conciliatory while Israel remains intransigent on such issues as territorial compromise and Palestinian representation. There are sources here, however, who say Sadat may be genuinely interested in a settlement with Israel because of Egypt’s crippled economy and weak military position and speculate that his offer and Begin’s response could lead to a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has flatly rejected a suggestion by Sadat that a Palestinian professor, now living in the U.S., represent the Palestinians at the Geneva conference. Sadat did not identify the professor but said that PLO chieftain Yasir Arafat accepted the idea. A Ministry spokesman said that “since the subject of negotiations is living together” with the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, “only genuine representatives of these areas and not outside individuals can carry out these negotiations.”
He repeated Israel’s refusal to accept a PLO member as part of a Palestinian delegation. “We shall not accept a PLO representative be he a permanent or temporary resident of the U.S. or any other country and it would not matter if he is a professor or a member of any other profession or if he is a Palestinian or any other origin.”