JERUSALEM (Aug. 24)
Premier Menachem Begin reiterated his refusal to dismantle existing Jewish settlements on the West Bank or Sinai at a Likud Knesset faction caucus meeting last night in Jerusalem, convened in preparation for the Camp David summit next month.
“On no account will we agree to remove settlements,” Begin promised the faction, noting he would oppose any proposal calling for their removal. “We will withstand pressure and if there is need for it, we will exert pressure in return,” he declared. “If they (Egypt or the U.S.) insist (on removal of settlements), at the Camp David talks…there will be no agreement. We will not abandon Israel’s vital interests.”
Despite his “personal support” of settlements on the West Bank, Begin did note that he was not interested in a break in U.S.-Israel relations nor did he support the expropriation of Arab land and the consequent suffering caused by it.
EXPECTS SUMMIT TO FOCUS ON THREE AREAS
He noted that he expects the talks at Camp David to focus on three areas: an agreement with Egypt, the situation in Lebanon, and U.S.-Israel relations. He emphasized the importance of maintaining U.S.-Israel amity, despite differences of opinion, and hinted that the U.S. supports the presence of Israel defense forces on the West Bank.
The Premier cautioned against unrealistic expectations concerning the summit meeting. “We must not be afraid of criticism, for we must do nothing that might endanger Israel’s essential security interests,” he declared. “We can even expect a tough period after the meeting.”
He also defended his West Bank autonomy plan, in that it provides the only real basis for negotiations, especially since Egypt has rejected out of hand any idea of territorial compromise. The Likud faction on the whole seemed to agree with Begin’s appraisal of the autonomy plan, and gave its near-unanimous backing to the proposals Israel will submit at Camp David.
“The Prime Minister is leaving for Camp David with the full backing of the Likud Knesset faction,” coalition executive chairman Haim Corfu said. He added that Begin’s autonomy plan was sufficiently flexible for negotiations because it provided leeway both for those supporting an increased number of settlements and for those favoring territorial compromise.
The supportive statement of Begin somewhat quelled tension that had arisen from Liberal Party ranks earlier in the week when Liberal Party members assumed an “anti-settlement” stand over the issue of Gush Emunim. However, the Liberals tried yesterday to convince the Likud Knesset faction caucus that their position had been misinterpreted. The Liberal Party is one of the two major groups in Likud. The other is Herut.