LONDON (Dec. 4)
Israeli Premier Menachem Begin expressed confidence last night that his nation will eventually sign peace treaties with all of its Arab neighbors. “It will take some time but we are already on the road toward peace, he declared at a dinner given in his honor by Prime Minister James Callaghan at No. 10 Downing St.
He was responding to Callaghan who said that from his hour-long private talk with Begin before the dinner he gained the impression that Israel would strain “every muscle” in the current bid for peace and that a “new era” would open for the Middle East.
Begin and Callaghan continued their talks at the Prime Minister’s official residence this morning. They will hold a joint press conference Tuesday at the end of Begin’s five-day visit. There will be no joint communique. However, Begin’s to its partners in the European Economic Community (EEC) for a continued positive attitude toward the Egyptian-Israeli peace initiatives. France has shown some reservations about the forthcoming Cairo conference and there are lingering anxieties among British officials as well.
Begin declared at the dinner last night that the contacts between Israel and Egypt were not a public relations exercise but were aimed at an agreement that both he and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt hoped would be endorsed by all other parties to the Middle East conflict before the Geneva conference is reconvened. He said the “positive voice” heard in Jerusalem and Cairo would prevail over the “negative voice” at the Arab opposition conference in Tripoli, Libya last week.
WARM, SUBSTANTIAL TALKS
Begin’s talks with Callaghan so far were described as warm and informal and wide-ranging and full of substance. Callaghan was quoted as saying that the Sadat-Begin meeting in Jerusalem gave new hope to the Middle East and Begin replied that he would take advantage of the new situation with vigor. Both agreed on the need to aim for a comprehensive Middle East settlement and not one limited to Israel and Egypt.
British sources said there was no argument on the issue of a “Palestinian homeland,” British support of which has drawn criticism from Israel. The sources said that Begin recognized that there was a Palestinian problem that had to be solved. One issue on which disagreement was openly admitted was the Arab boycott of Israel. Despite frequent Israeli complaints, the Foreign Office will not change its practice of authenticating certificates of “non-Israeli origin” of goods imported by Arab countries from British firms.
At this morning’s meeting with Calloghan which continued into a working lunch, Begin emphasized Israel’s need for secure geographical frontiers. He supported his arguments with a map showing Israel’s pre-1967 borders. He also used the map to explain Israel’s policy in south Lebanon and its “moral responsibility” to prevent the annihilation of the Lebanese Christian minority there. Begin and Callaghan also discussed EEC policies and the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union and Syria.
Begin’s visit here has aroused intense interest, not only because he is the first Israeli Premier to come to Britain officially as the guest of the government but because 30 years ago, as leader of the underground Irgun, he headed the British “wanted” list in Palestine. Callaghan referred to that past era last night when he paid tribute to Begin’s “determination and decisiveness in the days when we were hunting you.” He said it was those same qualities that would enable the Israeli leader to surmount the obstacles on the road to peace with the Arabs.
Begin, accompanied by his wife, Aliza, arrived at Heathrow Airport Friday morning where he was greeted by Dr. David Owen, the British Foreign Secretary, David Kidron, Israel’s Ambassador, and leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community. Addressing a large crowd of dignitaries and journalists as he stepped from his plane, he declared, “I bring from Jerusalem a suggestion–to renew the covenant signed by the Jewish people and the British people 60 years ago on that unforgettable day, Nov. 2, 1917.” He was referring to the Balfour Declaration. He made it clear that he was not seeking a renewal of the declaration but a revival of the ardent pro-Zionist spirit that had motivated the British government to issue it.
PROTESTS MAR VISIT
The warm welcome accorded Begin was marred by protests by Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups. About 500 people, including many Palestinian students, marched through London yesterday denouncing Israel and Sadat’s peace initiative. They stopped near the Egyptian Embassy and near No. 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence, where Arab student leaders delivered protest letters.
Begin spent most of yesterday in his suite at the Carlton Towers Hotel. An infected toe prevented him from walking to Marble Arch Synagogue for Sabbath morning services. But later, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits and a group of congregants visited the Israeli Premier at the hotel.
It was learned, meanwhile, that Begin personally overruled a decision not to invite Sunday Times editor Harold Evans to Tuesday’s press conference because of articles in that paper last June accusing Israel of torturing Arab political prisoners. The ban had been suggested by the Israeli Embassy and approved in Jerusalem.