JERUSALEM (Apr. 16)
The Cabinet met today to review Israel’s position on Security Council Resolution 242 after remarks by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan raised speculation abroad that Israel may be softening its refusal to withdraw in any measure from the West Bank.
However, after a briefing by Cabinet Secretary Arye Noor, newsmen were more perplexed than ever and the consensus was that the government is not modifying its position but simply trying to present it in more “positive” and palatable terms.
Dayan, in two public appearances over the weekend, stressed that Israel accepted 242 as calling for negotiations between itself and Jordan as well as with other neighboring Arab states. Noor confirmed this at the briefing. But he stressed, as did Dayan, that the resolution, in Israel’s view, is not a basis for “discussions of the future of Judaea and Samaria.” It is the claim of Premier Menachem Begin, which has brought Israel into sharp conflict with the U.S., that the Security Council’s resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories does not apply to the West Bank.
DAYAN’S EXPLANATION OF 242
Dayan’s explanation was that the resolution spoke of “states” and if Israel accepted it as a basis for discussion of the West Bank, the implication would be recognition of its claims for future statehood. However, he acknowledged that “the resolution asks us to withdraw from territories we captured from all the neighbors, including Jordan.”
Israel, however, does not recognize that Jordan ever had a legitimate claim to sovereignty on the West Bank. Neither Dayan nor Noor said that acceptance of 242 as applying to negotiations with Jordan means that the government is prepared–as was its predecessor–to withdraw from any part of the West Bank.
Dayan did say, in a speech yesterday in Beersheba, that Israel did not regard its “self-rule” plan for West Bank Arabs as “sacred” and that it was prepared to consider counter-proposals by the Arabs. Noor made the same point today, but only after he was pressed by reporters, and with an obvious lack of enthusiasm.
SEEKING MORE FLEXIBLE FORMULATION
Observers here believe Dayan was trying to get Begin’s endorsement of Israel’s readiness in principle, to consider alternative proposals even if they involve some measure of withdrawal from the West Bank. But if Noor’s briefing was any indication, he was only partly successful. Dayan himself does not support West Bank withdrawl.
There is a feeling, however, in some quarters that he might accept it as a last resort to avoid a total collapse of the peace process. He is said to be seeking a more flexible formulation of the Israeli position on Resolution 242 than the one offered by Begin and thereby bolster the sagging support of Israel abroad, especially in the U.S.
It remains to be seen if today’s Cabinet review of 242, and the tentative probing by Dayan that prompted it, will open the way to a substantive shift of Israeli policy on that issue. As of now, however, it appears that if there is any “new” position taken by the Cabinet it is largely cosmetic.
The U.S., it is reported here, is standing fast and awaiting a substantive shift in Israeli policy before resuming its peace-making efforts in the Middle East. In that connection, observers here note that Begin has not been invited to the White House by President Carter when he goes to the U.S. next month to participate in American Jewish celebrations of Israel’s 30th anniversary. One diplomatic source asserted that it would be “almost inconceivable” for Begin to visit the U.S. as the head of Israel’s government and not be received by Carter.
GRAVE CONCERN OVER PLO
In other developments, Dayan has expressed “grave concern” in a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim over statements by PLO leaders that they intend to return to south Lebanon “and renew their murderous attacks against Israel and its citizens.”
Dayan recalled to Waldheim, who is due in Beirut and Jerusalem tomorrow, that Security Council Resolution 425 of March 19 setting up the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was intended “to restore international peace and security” in the area and “to assist the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in south Lebanon.”
Dayan stressed that Israel “considers it of vital importance that UNIFIL exercise to the fullest extent the responsibility entrusted to it by the Security Council” and that it will “prevent the entry or return into the area of armed members or units of the so-called PLO.”