JERUSALEM (Sep. 25)
Premier Menachem Begin appealed to the Knesset today to accept the Camp David agreements in all their parts and held out the prospect of a full peace treaty with Egypt by the end of the year, or possibly sooner. He told the MKs who packed the chamber in a special session convened this morning that their choice was between giving up negotiations for a peace agreement or accepting the Camp David accords.
Begin made it clear that aspects of the accords were extremely painful, notably the decision to remove the Israeli settlements in Sinai. The Cabinet yesterday approved a proposal that the Knesset empower the government to take that step if, during the negotiations with Egypt, agreement is reached on all other problems.
“With a heavy heart, I shall recommend to the Knesset to pick the choice of negotiations,” Begin said. He assured the MKs that on the West Bank there would be no referendum, no Palestinian state and no negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Knesset met today to hear Begin’s report on the Camp David summit. The general debate, to be followed by a vote, was postponed until Wednesday to give the various parties, particularly the National Religious Party, additional time for internal debate on the issue. The Labor Alignment, the largest opposition faction, has already voted overwhelmingly to approve the Camp David agreements. Alignment chairman, Shimon Peres, who also addressed the Knesset, was sharply critical of the agreement but indicated that Labor would support it because the alternative was worse.
Begin faced the most furious outburst from opponents within his own party, led by Herut die-hard Geula Cohen. She refused to let the Premier start his statement, rising repeatedly to shout interruptions in order, she said, “to defend the country from Menachem Begin.” Her near-hysteria alarmed Knesset members and when she would not be calmed down she was asked to leave the chamber.
AN AGREEMENT TO END BELLIGERENCY
Begin told the Knesset that while the written agreement signed at the close of the Camp David talks set a three-month deadline for an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, he hoped a treaty could be signed in two months. He stressed that the Camp David accords mean there will be no more partial steps or interim agreements.
“This time it is a peace agreement which will bring to an end the state of belligerency” with Egypt, he said. He spelled out the security arrangements in Sinai and said they were satisfactory. He promised that Israel would not dismantle its air bases in Sinai until the two new air fields the U.S. has pledged to build for Israel in the Negev are completed and operational.
With respect to the settlement freeze on the West Bank over which differences have developed between himself and President Carter, Begin said he had ascertained that Israel’s commitment was only for the three-month period of negotiations with Egypt, not the five-year transitional period in that territory provided in the Camp David framework.
He said he had consulted in that matter with Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who participated in the Camp David talks and was convinced that his interpretation is the correct one. He said he would write a letter to that effect to Carter this week.
Responding to a question from Labor MK Yossi Sarid, Begin denied a report in Newsweek magazine that he had agreed to talk to PLO members in the course of negotiations over the West Bank and Gaza. He said, however, that if a PLO supporter was elected to the West Bank self-governing body, Israel would accept him if he did not engage in terrorist activity.
Begin assured the Knesset that there were no secret agreements at Camp David although there were certain documents he would not mention for “psychological and political reasons.” One of them, apparently, was an Egyptian document presented to President Carter on the first day of the summit which almost resulted in its breakdown.
Begin disclosed that he had threatened not to sign the accords if President Anwar Sadat of Egypt had gone ahead with his intention to send him a “letter of disagreement” making certain demands on the status of Jerusalem. These apparently included that assertion that East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank. Begin reported that he also rejected a proposal to fly the flag of an Arab country over the Temple Mount which contains Moslem shrines.
REPORT DIRECT EGYPT-ISRAEL CONTACTS UNDERWAY
(According to reports from Cairo, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat told reporters late today that Vice President Hosni Mubarak, who will be acting President while he is on leave, “will be starting this day the establishment of direct contact between Egypt and Israel.” He did not make clear with whom the contacts would be made.
(But he told the reporters the Camp David agreements “are solving the problem of the Middle East that has lasted 30 years with four wars and hatred and bittemess.” He added that “all this is turning now to friendship and good neighborliness.” Sadat spoke to reporters after an address carried by Cairo Television in which he said the peace talks would start when the Knesset approves the Camp David agreements.)
PERES PRAISES GOVERNMENT, CRITICIZES ACCORDS
Peres had some praise for the government. He admitted that he had not believed that the present government would have the courage to make the vital and difficult decisions that it did. “The government was forced to go back on its previous undertakings and to abandon its ideologies,” Peres said.
But he was bitterly critical of the Camp David agreements themselves which he characterized as “worse than the Rogers Plan.” He noted that the plan, proposed in 1969 by the then U.S. Secretary of State William P. Rogers, had allowed for Israeli airfields in Sinai and an Israeli presence at Sharm el-Sheikh. It was rejected by the Labor-led government.
Now, Peres charged, “the government which had refused to sign a general declaration of principles on the future of the West Bank (last January) has signed a much more specific and more dangerous document.” He chastized the Likud government for describing the Sinai settlers as obstacles to peace. He charged that, despite Begin’s denials, he had in fact acknowledged the future existence of a Palestinian as state through his autonomy plan and his recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians as stated in the Camp David framework on peace in the Middle East.
However, Peres said, there was no choice but to vote for the Camp David agreements. “Had the summit broken down, Israel would have been totally isolated and the one Arab leader who wanted peace with Israel (Sadat) would have been destroyed,” Peres said.
There were no other speakers today and the Knesset adjourned until Wednesday. The Cabinet will also convene Wednesday for an extraordinary session at which Begin promised to make further clarifications of the Camp David undertakings. This was demanded by several ministers, including Minister of Energy Yitzhak Modai who did not participate in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting because, he said, he lacked sufficient information.