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Behind the Headlines Begin-dayan Are Sole Authors of Israel’s Foreign Policy

One year after Menachem Begin’s ascent to power, his decision-making process has pretty well taken shape and can be quite clearly delineated. Begin’s performance in foreign affairs is influenced by one man and one man only–Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. In domestic and economic affairs Begin’s role is hardly apparent, because–as was the case with most of his predecessors–the Prime Minister devotes almost all of his time and energy to foreign policy issues.

Begin’s close circle comprises his bureau chief, Yehiel Kadishai; the Director General of the Primer Minister’s Office, Dr. Eliahu Ben-Elisar; Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor; and spokesman Shlomo Nakdimon. These officials are all personal acquaintances of Begin for many years and his devoted admirers. Begin has daily contact with three other officials who worked with former Premier Yitzhak Rabin. They are Military Secretary Ephraim Poram; Jewish affairs adviser Jehuda Avner; and spokesman Dan Pattir. But these officials do not share the others’ longtime psychological dependence on, and moral commitment to, Premier Begin. And, perhaps for this reason, they have no real impact on his decision-making.

In fact, none of the persons surrounding Begin, including his intimates, has any pretension to an active part in designing foreign policy. The admirers look upon themselves as Begin’s passive and obedient pupils. The others see themselves as no more than civil servants whose tasks are to carry out the Premier’s orders.

In evaluating this situation one must note in all fairness that most of Begin’s predecessors were dominant personalities who did not pay much heed to their closest aides. Ever since the establishment of the State the Prime Minister’s Office has lacked specific agencies to deal with planning and evaluating national policy.

MOST CABINET DECISIONS WERE BEGIN’S

It is a conglomerate of several diverse departments such as the State Archives, the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Government Press Office, the National Council for Research and Development, all of which function without much reference to each other and have no impact on, or input in, foreign policy decision-making. Begin has no personal connection with these departments because their work does not concern his primary role as arbiter of foreign and defense policy.

Thus, Begin’s views evolve without any of his aides or subordinates participating in the process, beyond coordinating his concepts with information submitted by the intelligence agencies.

At the Cabinet level, Begin’s method is almost identical. Most of the major decisions in foreign affairs taken by the Cabinet over the last year were Begin’s. His Cabinet colleagues played a passive role with the notable exception of Dayan. Dayan has had a major impact on the Premier’s views, as evidenced by a brief review of the most important moves undertaken by the government in foreign affairs.

In October 1977, Dayan reached an agreement with the U.S. Administration on what was called the U.S.-Israel “working paper” which laid down various provisions with regards to the procedure for reconvening the Geneva conference. Among these conditions was the role the Palestinians were to play. For the first time, Israel agreed to a Palestinian representation in the peace process. Dayan acted alone in suggesting the Israeli policy with regards to this problem, thus establishing formulations which contained a momentous precedent. Begin, recovering at the time from a heart ailment in a Tel Aviv hospital, was the only person with whom Dayan consulted. In the event, Begin backed Dayan’s position.

DAYAN’S DOMINANT ROLE

In the fall of 1977, Dayan held two secret meetings with representatives of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to prepare his visit to Jerusalem. In those discussions, Dayan promised that the Israeli government would be ready to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt if the two parties agreed to sign a peace treaty. According to the Israeli version, Dayan laid down some conditions to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, such as demilitarization, security belts, a UN presence in the area, and the continued existence of Israeli settlements in northeast Sinai. Those proposals were included in the official peace plan submitted by the government, prepared by Dayan and Begin.

In December, 1977, Begin submitted Israel’s peace plan to President Carter and to President Sadat. The plan was originally designed by Begin and later adapted and changed by Dayan and Attorney General Aharon Barak. The Ministerial Security Committee played only a passive role. It listened to the proposals; the full Cabinet learned of them only after they were presented to Carter.

In January, 1978 an Israeli-Egyptian political committee began discussion of a draft “declaration of principles” at the Jerusalem Hilton hotel. The Israeli team was led by Dayan and Barak who were in constant direct contact with Begin. The three men mapped out the Israeli approach to the Egyptian and the American suggestion. The Cabinet was informed of the formulations only later, by which time Sadat had withdrawn his delegation from the discussions.

In April, 1978, in order to set aside differences between Israel and the U.S. Dayan initiated a new version of the Israeli interpretation of the UN Resolution 242. The only person with whom Dayan consulted before issuing new instructions on this subject was Begin. In April, 1978, Dayan, in Washington, suggested a new approach towards the stalled negotiations between Israel and Egypt, based on practical rather than on declarative formulations. Here again, Begin was the only man with whom Dayan shared his views and actions.

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