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Most of Israeli Press Sharply Critical of Cabinet Response

Most Israeli newspapers were sharply critical today of the Cabinet’s reply to the American questions on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Haaretz said it was, in fact, a negative response, indicating that a majority of the ministers are still trying to circumvent the issue of the future of those territories. Only Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and the four ministers of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), who voted against the formulation; seem to realize that the question cannot be evaded in the long run, Haaretz said.

The Cabinet majority clearly wants to give the self-rule plan a life span longer than five years and “there is hardly a reason to believe that the American leadership will see such an Israeli reply as a means of regenerating the political momentum,” Haaretz said.

The Jerusalem Post suggested that Israel’s replies were irrelevant to the questions asked by the U.S. The answer “was neither a yes nor a no or even a maybe. It was and remains a blank,” the Post said. It warned that the decision helped improve President Anwar Sadat’s image as a “frustrated peacemaker” despite the fact that it was the who broke off the peace talks last January.

U.S. MAY PRESENT OWN PLAN, DAVAR SAYS

Davar, the organ of Histadrut, said the Cabinet decision invited the U.S. to come up with a peace plan of its own. If that happens, “one can hardly complain,” the paper said. “The government has wasted opportunities for the advancement of a settlement on the basis of formulas which were not accepted only because of its adherence to the ‘Greater Israel’ idea,” Davar charged.

Al Hamishmar, organ of Mapam, said that if the government had announced a priori its readiness to apply Security Council Resolution 242 to the Jordanian front, it would have spared the American questions. Its refusal to do so invited the American questions, the paper said.

Maariv criticized the vagueness of the Cabinet’s reply. “The government of Israel is not saying no to the Americans, but rather mumbles something that is not a clear answer to the questions asked. Even if one can gain several weeks, one can in no way relieve the American pressures, let alone improve the deteriorating relations between Jerusalem and Washington,” Maariv said.

The only favorable comment came from the Orthodox Hatzofe, organ of the National Religious Party and from Yediot Achronot. Hatzofe saw the Cabinet’s response as a way out of the political dilemma forced on Israel by the American questions as well as a means of avoiding a coalition crisis. Yediot Achronot said the time has come for Israel to refrain from answering demands for concessions “assuming that the ultimate confrontation cannot be avoided anyway.”

TROUBLE AHEAD FOR BEGIN

Although yesterday’s split decision by the Cabinet was a victory for Premier Menachem Begin, the rumblings at home spelled possible political trouble for the Israeli leader, coming as they did not only from the Labor opposition but within coalition ranks. Avraham Sharir, the Likud Knesset faction Whip and leader of its Liberal Party wing, said today, “We seem to be at the beginning of a crisis not at its end. Should the crisis deepen, it is possible that changes in the government may be considered.”

Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, leader of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) who, with the three other DMC ministers and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman opposed the Cabinet’s reply to the American questions, sought to smooth over differences today. He said that while the more positive response formulated by the DMC would have given peace negotiations a better chance, he hoped the Cabinet’s majority decision would still create the necessary momentum. A much stronger reaction came from DMC knesset Whip Amnon Rubinstein who said the Cabinet’s response was not in line with the government’s peace plan “as the DMC understood it” when it was presented to the knesset. As far as the DMC is concerned, the basis on which it had supported the plan was dropped and because the Cabinet ignored the DMC’s position, the party would have to reconsider its own position as a coalition partner, he said.

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