Behind the Headlines Mounting Discontent Faces Begin
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Behind the Headlines Mounting Discontent Faces Begin

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As Premier Menachem Begin was returning home tonight from London where he met with Prime Minister James Callaghan, there was mounting discontent within his coalition Cabinet, his Likud Party and, most significantly, his loyal Herut followers over the reported features of his peace plan and his alleged failure to keep the Cabinet and Knesset fully informed of major political developments. Sharp differences between Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan have also emerged and, in an ironic political twist, Labor Alignment leaders are now attacking Begin for being too “soft.”

The Premier, who meets with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt at Ismailia this Sunday, has encountered the most serious criticism over his offer of “home rule” to the Arab populations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hard-liners of Herut, La’am (State List) and the Greater Israel Movement, the hard core of Begin’s constituency, have publicly expressed anger, amazement and disbelief over published reports of Begin’s proposals. Many are charging that they are tantamount to approval of the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

The critics, admittedly, are reacting mainly to media rumors and speculation by commentators here and abroad. Begin, appearing on the CBS-TV “Face the Nation” program Sunday, referred in very broad terms to “home rule” for Palestinian Arabs while maintaining Israeli security in the occupied territories. He reiterated that Jerusalem would remain the united capital of Israel and spoke of the right of Jews to settle anywhere in what he called the land of Israel.

But details of the plan the Premier conveyed to President Carter at their Washington meetings and which were relayed to Sadat remain cloaked in secrecy. Only a small group of senior Cabinet ministers were made privy to Begin’s proposals before he left for the U.S. last Thursday.


One of them, Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), told a press conference here today that Begin’s peace proposals should not be criticized until they are published in full. He said that there was no justification for criticism and that published reports of the Begin plan were partly incorrect and partly incomplete. “It is difficult to make a responsible opinion on the proposals without knowing the details,” Yadin said.

He assured the newsmen that Begin would not commit Israel to any plan without getting full authorization from the Knesset. Begin will convene the Cabinet in special session Thursday apparently to get its endorsement of his proposals before meeting Sadat. Most observers believe that despite the grumbling among some ministers, Begin will win the unanimous approval of his government.

(Begin told reporters at London Airport after meeting with Callaghan and Jean-Francois Poncet, a special envoy from President Valery Giscard d’Estaing of France that his proposals for the West Bank were only part of the overall package he would be taking to Sadat. He said his full peace proposals would be made public only after his meeting with the Egyptian President. “I can say that they are fair and conducive to peace, “Begin stated. Asked whether he anticipated any major changes from Sadat to his proposals, Begin said: “We will meet like friends. He is my friend and I am his friend. We have an understanding…”)


Meanwhile, the Herut-La’am Knesset factions met in Tel Aviv last night to discuss the latest developments. Most speakers expressed shock that their leader was ready to give up the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the Judaea-Samaria regions. MK Yossef Rom said he was convinced that the media reports were inaccurate. “I believe the published reports were confused and confusing,” he said.

Moshe Shamir, the writer, an ardent member of the Greater Israel Movement within La’am, said that if the reports were true “the situation is very bad for Israel, for Zionism, for security and for peace because it is a time bomb which will lead to the next war.” Amnon Linn and Yigal Cohen of La’am said they may not vote for Begin’s proposals when they come before the Knesset.

Earlier, MK Geula Cohen, one of the most outspoken Herut “hawks,” said she was disappointed by Begin’s remarks on “Face the Nation.” She said she was shocked to hear the Premier mention Israeli rule on the west Bank in the same breath with Turkish, British and Jordanian rule when he discussed the history of that territory. She also complained that when Begin spoke of “home rule” for the Palestinians he was, in effect, approving of a national home for them. “I never believed he would utter such a sentence,” she said.


Meanwhile, it was learned that Begin and Dayan have basic differences over the future of the West Bank. Dayan has been speaking of a “functional compromise” meaning, apparently, a degree of autonomy for West Bankers linked in some form to Jordan. The reported Begin plan makes no mention of a Jordanian connection and treats the West Bank as a separate entity.

Dayan reportedly is worried that the absence of a Jordanian link to the West Bank would open the way to establish a Palestinian state. Observers here believe that the disagreements between Dayan and Begin are more likely to grow in the coming weeks than be resolved. According to one report, Dayan has been meeting privately with members of the coalition and opposition to convince them to accept Begin’s plan only on condition that any settlement on the West Bank is connected with Jordan.


The Labor Alignment Knesset faction expressed shock and dismay today at Begin’s “disregard for the parliamentary process.” It also echoed Herut concern that the Begin plan paved the way for a Palestinian state. Alignment leader Shimon Peres said it was “outrageous” that Begin saw fit to brief American Senators and the British Prime Minister on his peace plan, but not the Knesset. Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin said Begin was not clear on the exact nature of his proposals but from what could be gathered from news reports, he is aiming at the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The only Alignment members to favor Begin’s proposals–as reported in the press–were the leaders of Mapam, long one of the most bitter political opponents of Likud. Another supporter was the tiny leftist Sheli faction which has always advocated Israel’s return to its 1967 borders and self-determination for the Palestinians.


Within the coalition, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, representing the more militant wing of the National Religious Party (NRP), spoke out yesterday against the Premier’s alleged secrecy. He told the Jerusalem Press Club that until now Begin has disclosed only part of his political strategy to the full Cabinet. He also said he was not quite sure what was behind Begin’s offer of “self rule” to the West Bank Arabs.

Hammer said he approved of autonomy with a link to Jordan only if Israel’s sovereignty was not abolished, Judaea and Samaria are not divided and no other political or security concessions are made. Spokesmen for the Orthodox, ultranationalist Gush Emunim also expressed concern and said the most they would support was municipal autonomy for the West Bankers.

Begin faces an arduous task of fence-mending when he meets with the Likud knesset faction tomorrow or Thursday. But there is one big plus on his side. While controversy rages among the politicians, all the latest opinion polls show that Begin enjoys immense support from the public at large. The results of one poll, published today, indicated that a majority of Israelis agree that concessions on the West Bank are necessary for peace.

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