JERUSALEM (Jul. 19)
Shimon Peres, leader of the apposition Labor Alignment, returned from Europe last night and was embroiled today in an angry exchange with Premier Menachem Begin in the Knesset. He attacked the government for its “failure” in negotiations with Egypt, charged that Begin’s offer of “self-rule” to the West Bank and Gaza Strip unwittingly advanced the prospects of a Palestinian state and defended his controversial meeting with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Vienna 10 days ago.
Peres said that meeting was an opportunity for the Labor Alignment to improve Israel’s image overseas which, he said, was tamished by the government’s policies.
Begin mounted the podium to deny that he was obstructing negotiations. He said that despite personal insults from Sadat, he was willing to continue negotiations with Egypt and was even prepared to invite Sadat to Jerusalem again if he could be sure that the invitation would not be rejected.
Begin criticized Peres talks with Sadat. He asked the opposition leader it he had tested Sadat’s reaction to the Labor Alignment’s position in favor of territorial compromise on all fronts and implied that Sadat would reject that approach just as he has rejected the self-rule plan. Begin made it clear that, as for as he was concerned, there would be no compromise. Holding a piece of paper before the Knesset, he tore it in half, remarking, “This is what the territorial compromise is worth.”
Peres angrily denied Likud charges that he had negotiated with Sadat, thereby undercutting the government. “We talked. I explained to him why Israel cannot return to the 1967 borders and why Israel cannot return Jerusalem. This is not negotiations,” Peres said.
He praised the Vienna document on the Middle East, drafted during his visit by Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, chairman of the Socialist International. He said he could not remember a better international formula for the Middle East and said Egypt supported it.
Speaking on a radio interview this evening, the opposition leader said his discussions with Sadat covered many topics, including an evaluation of Israel’s place in Middle East regional development. He stressed the need to reach a peace agreement as soon as possible and said that all organizational and ideological differences should be put aside for that purpose. He proposed that Israel invite Egyptian personalities to speak here and encourage Israeli individuals to go to Egypt for meetings.
“No one’s conscience will rest if we awaken in a few months or years and realize that we missed a serious political opportunity,” Peres said. “There is a reality in this region that no paper or legalistic ruling can erase. The question is if this situation will continue in peace or in war. Such a question repeats itself, as it did in 1948. Only then, someone was capable of making a decision. Today, I am not so certain.”