JERUSALEM (Feb. 12)
The Cabinet today unanimously rejected the views expressed by U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance over the weekend that Israeli settlements in Sinai are contrary to international law and should be removed and that there should be a “homeland for the Palestinians” on the West Bank “linked to Jordan.” (See separate story on Vance.)
Premier Menachem Begin personally read the Cabinet’s statement that bristled with portents of a new crisis between Jerusalem and Washington. Its main point was that Vance’s remarks, in response to questions at a State Department press conference Friday, were in “complete contradiction” to what President Carter told Begin at their meetings in Washington last Dec. 16-17 when Begin presented Israel’s peace plan.
The statement, which expressed its “regret and protest,” also reiterated Israel’s contention that a “Palestinian homeland” would inevitably become a base for the destruction of the Jewish State and that “no political goal” can move Israel to accept it. The statement urged the U.S. to “reconsider its position in light of the positive talks held between the President and Prime Minister last December.” (See P. 3 for full text of Cabinet statement.)
Begin stressed, after reading the statement, that it had been supported unanimously by the ministers. Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor told newsmen later that the text was drafted after a 21/2-hour Cabinet session and as a result of the debate on the Vance statement and the overall political situation. He said the Cabinet sat as a Ministerial Security Committee, the proceedings of which, under law, are classified secret.
BEGIN, LEWIS HAVE FROSTY MEETING
The strong Cabinet reaction was not unexpected. It followed a frosty meeting last night between Begin and U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis. What was to have been a briefing from Lewis on the Carter-Sadat summit talks at Camp David, Md. last week, became, according to reports, an angry stand-off with Begin expressing constemation over Vance’s words and Lewis defending the Secretary of State.
Observers noted that when the usually affable American envoy left the Premier’s residence after a session that lasted nearly three hours, he appeared grim and would say nothing more than “good evening” to the waiting newsmen. In the past, Lewis has never failed to chat with reporters when emerging from high level meetings.
The Cabinet statement reflected Israel’s growing fear that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat succeeded all too well on his visit to Washington to marshal the U.S. Administration’s support for Egypt’s position on the crucial issues of settlements and the Palestinians. Israel is also casting a nervous eye on Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s requests for American arms as well as its own shopping list. Carter has yet to present to Congress his recommendations for U.S. weapons sales to Middle Eastern countries for the coming year.
CONCILIATORY MOVES BY ISRAEL
In light of those factors, Israel was reported to have made conciliatory moves to avoid deepening the rift with Washington. A radio report this evening that Defense Minister Ezer Weizman ordered work stopped on settlement projects in and outside of the Rafah salient in northern Sinai brought no official denial. The report said such work going on in the EI Arish region in the guise of “oil drilling” was ordered stopped by Weizman.
It was also reported that Jewish National Fund and World Zionist Organization settlement department officials and workers have been ordered by the defense authorities to cease all further earthworks.
At his evening briefing for reporters, Naor refused to say whether the settlement work had been discussed at the Cabinet meeting earlier in the day. He observed that radio reports on settlement matters were not always reliable but carefully declined to question the reliability of the reported work half in Sinai. Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon’s office would say only all settlement work in that area had been carried out with the approval of the Cabinet.
Israel’s reported suspension of settlement work in Sinai brought an immediate, favorable response from the U.S. American sources were quoted as saying that the government’s action will remove some of the difficulties from the road to resuming peace negotiations.
Today’s Cabinet statement was in essence a reiteration of Begin’s off-repeated claim that Carter had found his peace plan fair and equitable and that the U.S., until recently, raised no objections to the continued presence of Israeli settlements in Sinai which was part of the plan. The Cabinet also claimed that Israel’s settlement policy was “legitimate” and “in full harmony with international law.” It conceded, however, that the U.S. has a different viewpoint.