Knesset in Bitter Debate over Cabinet’s Replies to U.S.

The knesset was embroiled in a tense and bitter debate today during which Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan defended yesterday’s replies by the Cabinet to the American questions on the future status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and apposition leaders blasted the government’s formulation.

What the Cabinet did, Dayan explained, was to refuse the American invitation to agree that the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza would be determined within five years. Israel is prepared only to agree that future relations with the inhabitants would be negotiated, he said. Dayan noted that the majority of the Cabinet regarded the self-rule or autonomy plan as a “framework for a permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza” and said the plan contained provisions which left all elements open for review in five years’ time and left the sovereignty issue open. Such open-ended clauses provided the basis for a permanent plan, he said.

Dayan drew attention to the initial reaction from Washington which was that the U.S. would continue to seek progress toward peace on the basis of the Israeli and Egyptian positions. “If this is the official view, we will be very happy,” Dayan said. He said Israel’s self-rule plan had not been negotiated with Egypt and there was little reason for Israel to make further concessions at this stage toward a resumption of the peace talks with Egypt.

PERES SEES ISRAEL’S POSITION WORSENED

Shimon Peres, speaking for the Labor Alignment, said the Cabinet decision provided “a partial peace agreement for the Cabinet and autonomy for the DMC.” On a more somber note, he claimed that “the writing is on the wall,” and that the decision would “worsen Israel’s position, deepen the rift with the U.S., make the negotiations more difficult to resume, and intensify Israel’s isolation.” He criticized the government for trying to run away from Resolution 242, like a man trying to flee his own shadow. Peres noted that there was hardly a chance that the U.S. would accept the decision, when some of Israel’s own Cabinet ministers had not. “The government has erected a smokescreen which is at the same time intransigent and which might open the way for a Palestinian state–all because the government has refused to consider territorial compromise,” Peres claimed.

He suggested that President Anwar Sadat would have been ready for a settlement in Sinai and a declaration of principles as based on Resolution 242, without specifying a return to the 1967 borders. Noting that he could not elaborate, the Labor leader said he was convinced that the problem of the Israeli air field in Sinai could be solved. Emphasizing that this was his own assessment and not that of top American officials, Peres noted that this would have enabled Israel and Jordan to negotiate over the West Bank, or failing that, a separate degree of understanding between the U.S. and Israel.

Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban said the autonomy plan was becoming less and less attractive, while it was clear that the aim was to annex the West Bank. Contrary to earlier predictions, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman attended the knesset session, but left within 30 minutes. The tension between himself and Dayan and Premier Menachem Begin was extremely obvious.

PEACE DEMONSTRATORS SHED SHIRTS

One of the more colorful events of the Knesset session occurred when a row of young people seated in the visitors’ gallery stood up and removed their shirts during Dayan’s speech. The unraveling of their outer garments revealed red and white T-shirts proclaiming “Peace is Greater than a Greater Israel.” Apparently all member of the “Peace Now” movement, the group was quickly ushered cut of the gallery, but not before attention was riveted on them. Dayan was unruffled by the demonstration and continued talking to the inattentive audience.

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