JERUSALEM (Nov. 16)
Premier Menachem Begin reportedly offered a choice of two dates in his invitation to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to visit Jerusalem and address the Knesset–next Thursday, November 24 or the following Monday, November 28–it was learned today.
Begin has said he does not expect a reply before Friday from Sadat who is in Damascus today for talks with President Hafez Assad of Syria. Press reports from Cairo indicated that Sadat’s response will be affirmative. Whichever date the Egyptian leader chooses, Begin will not have to postpone his visit to Britain scheduled for early next week.
An unexplained delay in telex communications between the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Embassy in Cairo held up delivery of Begin’s formal invitation to Sadat which the Premier submitted to the American Ambassador Samuel Lewis, yesterday evening. Normally, the two embassies can communicate in minutes. But Begin’s message reached Cairo late last night and Lewis telephoned Begin early this morning to inform him that it will be delivered to Sadat tomorrow after his return from Damascus.
PREPARATIONS FOR VISIT IN FULL SWING
Meanwhile, preparations for the unprecedented visit by an Arab head of state speeded up today although there was a certain degree of circumspection in the Knesset which would be severely embarrassed if, for some reason, the visit did not take place. The government Press Information Office nevertheless went ahead with preparations for massive world-wide media coverage but no special telex and telephone lines have been installed as yet. The only flag-manufacturer in Jerusalem, Yitzhak Berman, has begun preparing Egyptian flags although no orders for them have been forthcoming as yet from the government.
President Ephraim Katzir is expected to receive Sadat at Ben Gurion Airport on behalf of Israel. He and Sadat are heads of state whereas Begin ranks only as chief of government although Begin has said he will be at the airport, too. If Sadat’s wife, Jihan, accompanies him, Mrs. Nine Katzir will be on hand to present her with the traditional bouquet.
SPECULATION ON SADAT’S MOTIVES
As the initial reaction of amazement and disbelief over a Sadat visit subsided, diplomatic observers and the media began to speculate about possible motives behind Sadat’s offer to come to Jerusalem and the possible outcome of his visit. Most Middle East experts believe that Sadat decided to go all the way in an attempt to end the Mideast diplomatic logjam.
They observe that the Egyptian President faces grove economic and social problems at home and is genuinely interested in a political solution of the conflict with Israel. He decided to go to Jerusalem, they say, in order to convince the Israelis and his fellow Arabs that peace is his true intention. His visit may give new momentum to the peace-making process which now seems stalled over procedures for reconvening the Geneva conference, experts say.
On the other hand, Sadat’s mission may fail. In that case, according to the pundits, the war option will loom again. But all agree that whatever its outcome, if Sadat’s visit takes place, Middle East diplomacy will never be the same again.
Analysts also noted that Sadat’s visit also has another implication of historic importance: by asking to come to Jerusalem to address the Knesset, Sadat has given tacit recognition to that city as the capital of Israel. They noted that many foreign political leaders and media frequently refer to the “Tel Aviv government” or “the government of Tel Aviv” rather than to Jerusalem.
SURPRISE MESSAGE FROM SADAT
Meanwhile, Sadat sent a surprise message to the 20th anniversary symposium of the Zionist Socialist magazine, New Outlook, in Tel Aviv today. The message, transmitted via Cyprus, stated:
“In the name of peace I take this opportunity to send a message of justice to the international symposium of New Outlook. You have come from the four corners of the earth, you intellectuals of many persuasions and philosophies, you have come in a spirit of seriousness and amity.
“The Palestinian dimensions of the tragic conflict which has haunted the Middle East for so long, allow me, distinguished delegates, to express the hope that your deliberations will prompt you to see the living reality of the Palestinian people and their inalienable right to statehood.
“For this is the only way to bring about fruitful dialogue between Arabs and Israelis. It is only within this bounds of the truly new outlook on the world of human affairs that men of goodwill may find their ways towards building peace together and beating their swords into ploughshares. Only then will they be able to lift the nightmare of renewed military confrontation from the suffering anguish of our peoples.”
WEIZMAN FURIOUS WITH GUR
In a related development, Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur found himself in trouble with his superior, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman today over an interview published in Yediot Achronot yesterday in which Gur warned that Sadat’s visit may be intended as a smokescreen to cover escalating war preparations by Egypt’s armed forces. Weizman was furious that Gur made those remarks for publication without clearing them or consulting with him in advance.
The interview was conducted over the weekend when a Sadat visit was still for from being an immediate possibility. Its publication yesterday, only hours before Begin extended his formal invitation to Sadat, was seen in some quarters as an attempt to sabotage the visit.
Gur could not have anticipated the swift developments that overtook his warning. But Weizman maintained, in reply to questions in the Knesset, that the Chief of Staff had no need or justification for his remarks at this time and expressed hope that they will not have a harmful effect on the peace process now in motion between Israel and its neighbors. Weizman has summoned Gur back from his vacation, leading to speculation that he might be replaced before his four-year term as Chief of Staff expires next April 15.