Cabinet Meeting Postponed Until Sunday As Begin Stays Home to Rest

Premier Menachem Begin will remain at home for the next three days to rest, the Prime Minister’s Office announced today. The Cabinet, which had been expected to convene in special session tomorrow, therefore will not meet again until its regular session this Sunday when it is expected to conclude debate over the formulation of Israel’s replies to questions posed by the United States on the future of the West Bank.

Today’s announcement revived the recent flurry of speculation over the state of Begin’s health. Only three days ago, Begin’s office issued a vehement denial of reports in the London Evening Standard that Begin was in poor health and could not function properly. Begin suffered a severe heart attack a year ago and was hospitalized twice thereafter for treatment of complications. Two weeks ago he was confined to bed for a week with a fever that his doctors said was not related to his heart ailment. In his most recent public appearances he seemed pale and drawn.

Begin’s aides admitted today that the Premier is “fatigued.” They said his doctors advised him to take a holiday but he refused because his absence would give rise to further rumors that he is in poor health. Some pundits suggested that his condition, requiring a three-day rest at home, was brought on by aggravation over the sharp split in his Cabinet on how Israel should respond to the American questions. There have been no signs so for that his efforts to bridge the gap between hardline advocates and moderates have succeeded.

BEGIN KEEPS POSITION TO HIMSELF

The Premier has deliberately refrained from stating his position. He is believed, however, to favor the approach urged by his Herut colleague Haim Landau who would politely inform the U.S. that Israel can make no commitment on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip until Begin’s proposed five-year “self-rule” plan runs its course That uncompromising position is believed to be unacceptable to the Americans who feel that resumption of the stalled peace talks with Egypt hinges on a more flexible stand by Israel.

The approach advocated by Defense Minister Ezer Weizman is more compatible with the American views. Most observers believe that unless Begin injects his personal prestige and political influence into the Cabinet debate, Weizman’s proposals will carry, if not unanimously then at least by a substantial margin. The question being asked now is how Begin could withstand such an erosion of his authority in the Cabinet he has dominated since taking office. The view expressed here is that the split within the government and concurrent rumors that Begin is III contain the seeds of a major crisis for the Premier. Even Begin’s close supporters admitted today that he faced the most difficult purled of his tenure to date. (See story Page 4.)

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