JERUSALEM (Nov. 15)
The Knesset today overwhelmingly approved Premier Menachem Begin’s invitation to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who has said he would come to Jerusalem if officially invited. The invitation, which Begin gave to U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis this evening for conveyance to Sadat through the American Embassy in Cairo, was welcomed with enthusiasm by virtually all members. (See related story for reaction from Washington.)
Former Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, speaking for the opposition Labor Alignment, told the packed chamber that the Knesset was united in support of the invitation to Sadat. Arye Eliav, leader of the Sheli faction, a bitter opponent of the Likud government, declared, “Today I have an opportunity to praise the Premier for his impressive and quick response to the dramatic gesture of President Anwar Sadat.” Only the three-member Rakah Communist faction abstained in the vote.
The Knesset appeared unperturbed by a warning by Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur, published in Yediot Achronot today, that Sadat’s offer to visit Israel may be a smokescreen to cover Egyptian preparations for war.
DRAMATIC TURN IN CONFLICT SEEN
The rapid events of the past few days have heightened the possibility of a dramatic turn in the 30-year-old Middle East conflict and Israelis have begun to prepare seriously for the first visit by the head of an Arab state to the Jewish State. Sadat told CBS television last night that he was ready to go to Jerusalem to address the Knesset on short notice if he received a proper invitation.
Begin responded immediately, also in a CBS interview, that he would ask Lewis to transmit the formal invitation because there are no direct diplomatic channels between Israel and Egypt. The impression here tonight was that Sadat may come to Jerusalem as early as next week. Begin told CBS that if necessary he would postpone his visit to Britain scheduled for next week.
READY TO INVITE ASSAD, HUSSEIN, SARKIS
He repeated that tonight during a ceremonial presentation of the invitation to Lewis before television cameras in the secretariate room of the Knesset. He said he was ready to extend similar invitations to President Hafez Assad of Syria, King Hussein of Jordan and President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon. Israel’s invitation is not an attempt to divide the Arab states, Begin told reporters. Its only purpose is to hold talks that would eventually lead to peace, he affirmed.
Begin added that Israel was also ready to talk to the “true and authorized spokesman of the Arabs of Eretz Israel.” He stressed that he and Sadat agreed that the latter’s visit would take place with no preconditions, no threats. “We do not threaten Egypt and we ask that Egypt does not threaten us,” he said, adding that “we do not have an alternative to peace.”
Begin said that if Sadat accepts the invitation, “he will be received with the appropriate honor that suits the head of a neighboring state with which we want to live in peace.” He said he would greet the Egyptian President at Ben Gurion Airport, would invite him to join him in his car and they would exchange mutual ideas on the drive to Jerusalem.
“Sadat could speak Arabic and I can speak Hebrew with a translator but we could also speak English,” Begin said. He stated that he would introduce Sadat to the Knesset and allow him to address it. The Premier said that as soon as an affirmative response was received from Cairo he would ask the Knesset House Committee to allow the Egyptian leader to use the podium. Begin disclosed in the Knesset that he wrote to President Carter today informing him of the recent developments and thanking him for the good offices of the U.S. ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Cairo.
ALLON SEES ARAB AWAKENING
Speaking for the opposition in the Knesset, Allon said the latest developments represented “a real turning point” in the Middle East conflict. He said Sadat would have to explain why a few years ago he said he was ready to sacrifice a million Egyptian soldiers in war with Israel and now he is ready to come to Jerusalem to prevent the death of even one soldier. “Perhaps this is the beginning of the Arab awakening,” Allon said.
“Perhaps the President and with him the other Arab leaders are beginning to understand that there is no military solution to the Mideast conflict, that none of the parties can impose the conditions of peace on the other party and that there is no alternative to negotiations and to the political means.”
Authorities at Ben Gurion Airport said today that they could be ready on 48 hours notice to receive Sadat’s plane. The King David Hotel, one of Jerusalem’s oldest and most prestigious hostelries, said it could prepare the Royal Suite in 24 hours. According to one report, flag-makers have received orders from the government to manufacture Egyptian flags.
WARNING ISSUED BY GUR
But there was still wide-spread skepticism that the visit will indeed materialize. Feelings persisted in some quarters that Sadat was engaged in an elaborate propaganda ploy to exploit sentiments for peace.
Today, Yediot Achronot headlined a warning by Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur that Sadat’s offer to come to Israel may be a smokescreen to cover accelerated war preparations by Egypt’s armed forces aimed at a surprise attack similar to the one that launched the Yom Kippur War in October, 1973. Gur’s remarks to the paper were made over the week-end. Their publication today was perceived in some quarters as a deliberate attempt to throw cold water on the prospects of a Sadat-Begin meeting in Jerusalem.
Begin indicated that he had not been consulted by Gur although a statement of that kind requires authorization at the highest political level. Defense Minister Ezer Weizman denied categorically that he had been consulted on the contents or timing of the statement. Gur claimed that in recent months there has been a significant escalation in the scope of military exercises by Egypt’s armed forces, a strengthening of those forces and other preparations for war. He said that Egyptian army units, and war materiel mobilized against Libya could be turned against Israel. Moreover, the Egyptian army is now conducting large-scale war games and military exercises, just as it did on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.