TEL AVIV (Dec. 21)
Premier Menachem Begin returned from the U.S. last night claiming that his peace plan had “won tremendous support” from the Carter Administration and leaders of both major American political parties. The Premier landed at Ben Gurion Airport after a five-hour stopover in London where he briefed Prime Minister James Callaghan and Jean-Francois Poncet, a special emissary of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing of France, on his proposals.
Begin appeared well satisfied with the results of his five-day visit to Washington and New York. “I went to the U.S. taking with me a good plan,” he told reporters at the airport. “I am back today and I have good news with me. Our plan has won a tremendous support by the U.S.–by the President and his aides, the Secretary of State and others–as a fair basis for starting negotiations that will lead towards peace.” He said the plan also had the blessings of former President Ford and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
(In Washington, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter declined to comment on press reports that the Carter Administration was not satisfied with Begin’s proposals. He did say, however, “we believe Mr. Begin is taking a constructive approach… and we also believe that he and President Sadat are taking a very constructive step toward peace.”)
DISMISSES DOMESTIC DISCONTENT
Begin dismissed the growing disquiet within his own Likud faction and especially among his hardcore Herut supporters over elements of his peace plan as reported in the press, particularly his offer of “self rule” to the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Begin insisted that the plan in no way deviates from the precepts of Herut and predicted that apposition would fade away once misunderstandings of his proposals are corrected.
Nevertheless, the Premier’s first order of business today was a meeting with Likud leaders to explain the essence of his peace proposals. He will convene the Cabinet in special session tomorrow and despite doubts expressed earlier in the week by some ministers, he is expected to get unanimous endorsement of his peace package before he brings it to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt at their meeting in Ismailia Sunday.
Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, defended Begin against charges that he kept the Knesset in the dark about his plans while speaking freely to Congressmen and the American media. Arens said it was necessary to reveal the principles of his plan to the media in order to ensure the support of American public opinion.
Begin’s return put a damper on criticism within Likud ranks and many MKs who were complaining that his proposals were tantamount to endorsing a Palestinian state were mute today. Even Herut firebrand Geula Cohen moderated her criticism and expressed “basic confidence” in Begin’s leadership.
LABOR ALIGNMENT SPLIT
Meanwhile, Labor Alignment leaders whose only area of agreement in recent months has been opposition to the Begin government’s policies, were split today on that issue. Paradoxically, Begin’s peace proposals have won the support from Labor’s right and left wings. Only the center, inhabited by Alignment leader Shimon Peres, former Premier Yitzhak Rabin and former Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, continued to complain that Begin’s “self rule” plan would create the infrastructure for a Palestinian state. But they seemed to be increasingly isolated within their own party.
Begin received an effusive greeting at the airport from Chaika Grossman of Mapam, one of his most severe critics in the Knesset. She praised him for his statesmanship and he kissed her on the cheek. Begin told reporters, “whoever speaks of a Palestinian state as a result of my plan does not know what he is talking about.”
SAYS SYRIA MIGHT ENTER TALKS
(It was reported from London today that Begin left his British hosts with the feeling that his apparent willingness to make everything negotiable would force Syria eventually to join in peace talks that are already tacitly supported by Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Begin told a press conference at London airport shortly before his departure yesterday that he thought Syria might enter the negotiating process at a later stage just as it belatedly signed an armistice with Israel in 1949, seven months after the other Arab states. He refused to discuss details of his peace plan but replied affirmatively when asked if Israel still sought a comprehensive settlement with all of its neighbors.)