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Sadat’s Visit Had Impact on Cabinet

Israel, so far, has withheld any public commitment to a change of policy on territorial issues and the Palestinian question that could be regarded as a reciprocation of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s peace initiative.

But Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem had a profound emotional effect on members of Premier Menachem Begin’s coalition Cabinet. Private and public remarks by key ministers, both moderates and those known as hard-liners, indicate that they believe the Egyptian leader’s desire for a peace settlement is sincere and that Israel must not miss the opportunity.

Several Cabinet members have expressed remarkably moderate concepts on the future of the occupied territories in off-the-record briefings. The four members of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) headed by Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin have publicly favored the principle of territorial compromise on the West Bank.

The same view has been indicated privately by three ministers of Likud’s Liberal Party wing and two National Religious Party ministers, Yosef Burg and Aharon Abu-Hatzeira. The third NRP minister Zevulun Hammer, a well-known hawk who is regarded as a spokesman for the Gush Emunim, said in a recent interview that Sadat’s visit must lead to “new thinking” in Israel on various elements of the Middle East conflict. He even conceded that the Palestinian problem is a legitimate subject for some new thinking.

SEEKS REVIEW OF ISRAELI POLICY

Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, another hawk, has enthusiastically praised Sadat and called for a greater effort by Israel to take advantage of the opportunity created by the Egyptian President. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, who has been the most active member of the Cabinet in the current negotiating process, called for a thorough review of Israeli policy as the nation approaches “the critical moment of truth.”

Dayan stressed that he was not calling yet for a revision of established positions. But his remarks were seen as reflecting a private belief that official attitudes should be softened, at least on some of the outstanding issues.

Dayan agreed to join Begin’s government on condition that its foreign policy remain based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and a promise from Begin that as long as peace efforts continue, Israel will not annex the West Bank. Since taking office, Dayan has adopted a moderate approach. He helped draft the U.S.-Israel working paper on Geneva conference procedures that provided for a Palestinian presence at the talks. He has since declared in the Knesset that the Palestinian problem is one of the main components of the Middle East conflict.

BEGIN MODERATING POSITIONS

But even Begin himself has taken some unexpectedly moderate positions since he assumed office. It was Begin who ordered the army to evacuate Gush Emunim settlers when they attempted to establish settlements on the West Bank not authorized by the government. Begin persuaded the Cabinet to approve the U.S.-Israel working paper and it was he, significantly, who praised Education. Minister Hammer’s call for “new thinking.”

It is too early to predict whether Begin will abandon some of his well-known fundamentalist doctrines. According to observers, that depends on whether he prefers to be remembered in history as the man who brought peace to the Middle East by agreeing to compromise on the West Bank or as one who missed a chance for peace by continuing to advocate the idea of a “Greater Israel.” Should Begin choose the latter course, there are many in his Cabinet, probably a majority, who would withdraw their support of him.

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