JERUSALEM (Jun. 27)
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman assured his Likud colleagues yesterday that he is not a “dove” but believes that President Anwar Sadat of Egypt should have been given some face-saving statement by Israel to enable him to conclude a separate peace. On those grounds, he said, he had objected to the Cabinet’s reply to the American questions on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Weizman was the subject of eight hours of debate by the Likud Knesset faction for his sharp dissent from the Cabinet’s decision and the unflattering language he used in expressing his differences. Contrary to expectations, the Likud faction did not reprimand Weizman for alleged slurs on the integrity of Premier Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan; nor did it adopt a general resolution urging ministers to abide by government decisions even if they disagreed. Weizman appeared first before Likud’s Herut wing and later before the full faction, reading statements and replying to questions. Begin was present but remained silent for the most part, saying, “I came to listen.” Dayan, who is not a member of Likud, did not attend.
Weizman said he did not come to defend himself, but to defend “the way of the Herut movement and the Likud and that of the State of Israel.” He said he still adheres to the Greater Israel Movement–which advocates Israel’s permanent retention of all occupied Arab territories–“but I am aware of the immediate possibilities.” He said his views on the subject had cost him dearly in terms of his career, hinting that he could have become Chief of Staff under the Labor-led government were he not a “hawk.”
Weizman stressed his belief in the availability of peace with Egypt. “I believe that Sadat wants peace. All the governments of Israel have always wanted to speak to Arab leaders. And here, the greatest of those leaders comes to us and we prefer to talk to the U.S., “he said. He said that Sadat needed a “fig leaf” with respect to the West Bank, a statement from Israel that could open the way for him to make a separate peace agreement.
Responding to allegations in some Likud quarters that he had been hood-winked by Sadat, Weizman said “Don’t think I get excited easily.” He recalled that when Sadat visited Jerusalem last November he had warned Israelis to “take a cold shower.” He said that when he heard Sadat’s speech to the Knesset indicating unwillingness to make any concessions, he had sent Begin a note saying the armed forces should be prepared for war. However, Weizman said the door to peace is not closed. The Egyptians want peace “although they want the maximum and this is the problem.”
Weizman acknowledged that he was “cross” when the Cabinet majority, including Begin, voted for a tough response to the American questions because he had been certain that Begin would support his own more flexible formulation. Begin said afterwards that he did not give anyone the impression that he supported any plan and, in fact, made up his mind just before the Cabinet was about to convene.
Weizman aimed most of his barbs at Dayan. When Geula Cohen, the hard-line Likud MK who believes Begin’s peace plan is too soft, referred to the “tragic connection” between Likud and Dayan, Weizman reminded her that it was not he who brought Dayan into the government. “The Premier brought him without consulting with anybody. I did not appoint him Foreign Minister, ” Weizman said.