JERUSALEM (Jul. 18)
Attending a meeting of the Ministerial Security Committee Monday, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman suddenly ripped a “peace” poster from the wall. It had been prepared for Israel’s 30th anniversary festivities. Weizman said he failed to see the point of such a poster when it was doubtful that everybody in the Cabinet wants peace.
Earlier in the day, Weizman stalked out of a meeting with members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee after refusing to brief them on his talks with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Salzburg last week. Both incidents reflect the anger and frustration that has characterized the Defense Minister’s mood of late.
Some circles here say his behavior is a reaction to the Cabinet’s decision Sunday to postpone consideration of Sadat’s latest peace proposals that were conveyed to Weizman at their meeting in Austria. He was also reportedly miffed by the Cabinet’s resolution on the conduct of future negotiations which seemed aimed in part at restricting the scope of his personal contacts with Arab leaders in the future.
Begin and other ministers have been infuriated by Sadat’s public assessment of Israel’s leaders which categorizes the Premier as a bitter intransigent with whom there is no point in negotiating, while making a “favorite” of Weizman. The Defense Minister has no control over Sadat’s public utterances. But many of his colleagues believe he should have demanded an immediate apology from the Egyptian leader for his unflattering remarks about Begin or else walked out of their meeting in Austria.
While Weizman may have initiated the meeting on his own, he attended it with the approval of Begin and authorization by the Cabinet. But when he briefed the Cabinet on the results Sunday, the attitude of some of his colleagues was unfriendly and even derogatory, informed sources reported.
AN ARRAY OF OPPONENTS
His most vocal critics were Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, the most outspoken hawk among the ministers, and Yigael Hurwitz, the Minister of Commerce and Industry. They were tough and Weizman responded in Kind, accusing his Likud colleagues of being ungrateful for his efforts to revive peace talks with Egypt. Begin had to intervene more than once to cool the heated exchange.
Sunday’s Cabinet session was almost a replay of the one last month when a majority of the ministers rejected Weizman’s proposed formulation of a reply to the American questions on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Instead, they adopted a Begin-Dayan reply that was widely criticized in Israel and abroad as evasive. After that meeting, Weizman announced that he would, in the future, stay out of political affairs and concentrate on building up the army for the “next war.”
But the energetic Defense Minister did not stay on the sidelines for long. Two weeks ago, after the Cabinet flatly rejected Egypt’s six-point peace proposals, Weizman contacted his Egyptian counterpart, War Minister Mohammed Gamassy, proposing that they get rogether. The result was his meeting with Sadat and Gamassy at Sadat’s vacation retreat near Salzburg.
The Cabinet, however, deferred discussion of that meeting to await the outcome of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kaamel and U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, which began in Leeds Castle, England today. The spotlight is now on Dayan who dismissed Weizman’s talks with Sadat as inelevant to his own mission.
Weizman appears once more to be isolated. The feeling here is that he must soon decide whether to openly challenge the Begin-Dayan policies or resign from the government. Should he choose to confront the leadership of his own party, he may have the support of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), some Liberal Party and even, possibly, National Religious Party ministers. On the other hand, he may find himself alone and his political career at an end.