JERUSALEM (Nov. 28)
Premier Menachem Begin told the Knesset today that Israel has formally accepted Egypt’s invitation to participate in a Cairo conference beginning next Saturday to prepare for reconvening the Geneva conference. But he flatly rejected calls both from within and outside his governing coalition for a “parallel Israeli gesture” to President Anwar Sadat’s initiative. “The gesture of his (Sadat) coming (to Jerusalem) was answered by the gesture of his reception here,” Begin declared.
He appealed to Israel’s other neighbors to follow Sadat’s example and enter into direct negotiations with Israel. He said he was ready to meet anywhere with President Hafez Assad of Syria. “We want peace with all our neighbors. Let our voice be heard in Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, Amman and Cairo and in all the Arab capitals, “Begin said. But he stressed that it was not Israel’s intention to “drive a wedge” between the Arab nations.
Begin said he wanted to avoid polemics and look to the future rather than the past. But he re-stated Israel’s basic positions: no withdrawal to the pre1967 borders and no acceptance of a Palestinian state. He said the U.S. government backed both of those points.
Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Alignment, stressed his party’s support for a compromise “territorial or other” on the West Bank. Begin replied that he preferred to keep his own position vague. He insisted that he was aware of the “problem of the Palestinian Arab people” and his government had practical solutions to propose for it.
SADAT’S PLEDGE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
Begin stressed the “warmth, heartiness and frankness” that marked his private sessions with Sadat in Jerusalem last week. He said that while atmosphere does not determine policy, it has an important intrinsic value. He said that Israel took “seriously” Sadat’s pledge that the 1973 war was the last war to be fought between Israel and Egypt and said he was pleased to note that Sadat repeated that assertion in his address to the Egyptian parliament Saturday.
Begin announced to the Knesset that the Israeli delegation to Cairo would consist of Dr. Eliahu Ben-Elissar, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Dr. Meir Rosenne, legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry. (See separate story for profiles.)
The Premier said the Egyptian invitation was conveyed to Israel’s Ambassador at the United Nations, Chaim Herzog, last night by the Egyptian envoy Abdel Esmat Meguid and was immediately cabled to Jerusalem by Herzog. Begin gave no date for the start of the Cairo conference but assured his religious coalition partners that there would be no desecration of the Sabbath. Israel and Egypt have both said they were ready to start the conference next Saturday.
“We are about to embark on the road for peace and I ask the blessing of this house,” Begin said in his opening speech which was moderate and confined to generalities. But his response after a four-hour Knesset debate was sharply political. Claiming that he and his government shared with Sadat credit for the historic events of the past week, Begin lashed out at opposition critics. He contended that he had achieved in six months what they failed to achieve in 30 years.