Emotional All-day Debate in Knesset Focuses on Fate of Sinai Settlements
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Emotional All-day Debate in Knesset Focuses on Fate of Sinai Settlements

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The Knesset still locked in debate late tonight, was not expected to vote on the Camp David accords until early tomorrow morning. The session, one of the longest in the history of Israel’s parliament and probably the most emotional, focused almost entirely on the fate of the Sinai settlements and whether or not the prospect of a peace treaty with Egypt by the end of the year was worth the price of their removal.

Most observers believe the Camp David package, which includes dismantling the settlements within three years after a treaty is signed, will be approved. The only question was by what margin and how heavily Begin will have to rely on the votes of the opposition factions.

Major defections within the ranks of his Likud-led coalition would prove embarrassing for the Premier. Begin had said earlier this week that he would resign if the Knesset rejected the accords. As the debate began this morning he said he would quit if a Likud majority failed to support the agreements.

About 80 MKs, more than half the membership, registered to speak today. As midnight approached, 20 were still waiting their turn. Coalition and party discipline has been waived and the vote, when it comes, will be by roll call Some pundits predicted from 75 to 95 votes in favor of the accords with about two dozen hardcore nationalists and the pro-Moscow Rakah Communists casting negative ballots. A number of abstentions were expected within the coalition and opposition parties.

Begin presented his case for Camp David at a special session of the Knesset on Monday. The only other speaker was Shimon Peres, chairman of the Labor Alignment who deplored the agreements but said Labor would vote for them because the alternative was worse.


The general debate was opened this morning by Moshe Arens of Likud, chairman of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. He warned that removal of the Sinai settlements would “take a brick out of the nation’s defensive barrier” and insisted that the settlements were not an obstacle to peace.

Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich, a leader of Likud’s Liberal Party faction, said he understood fully the opponents of the agreements but would support them despite the dangers because “one should take a chance.” Shlomo Hillel, of the Labor Alignment, denounced the government for agreeing to remove the settlements. He said the frameworks signed by Begin “smelled of surrender and pressure.”

But another Labor MK, Yossi Sarid, said he would support the government which showed courage and responsibility at the 11th hour. However, he said, he could not praise Begin because he was “deluding the people by saying there would not be a Palestinian sate.”

Moshe Shamir of Likud, shouted to Begin, “I do not trust you. I was deceived. I was told under oath that the Sinai settlements would not be dismantled.” Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, a Labor MK, declared. “There is no doubt in my heart that the achievement (of peace) is greater than the price. If the Knesset, God forbid, misses this opportune moment, it will have to answer for it to the whole Jewish people.”

Amos Hadar and Danny Rosolio of the Labor Alignment, opposed the agreements on grounds that they might serve as precedents for the evacuation of settlements on the West Bank and Golan Heights. But Shmuel Toledano of the newly formed SHAI (Change and Initiative) faction, said the fate of 4000 settlers in Sinai could not be weighed against the prospect of peace or war for 31/2 million Israelis. Shulamit Aloni of the Civil Rights Movement, declared “Land is not holy and settlements are not holy. The only thing that is holy is human life.”


Begin was expected to make a strong speech at the wind-up of the debate answering his critics. During the session, the Premier left the chamber for an hour to meet with U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis. Defense Minister Ezer Weizman attended the meeting but there was no indication of what was discussed.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is known to be rendering full assistance in the technical preparations for the opening of Israeli-Egyptian peace talks, under Lewis’ personal direction. The talks may begin next week, immediately after the Rosh Hashanah holiday that starts Sunday night. Preparations have been underway all week and the various aspects of implementing the Camp David agreements–military, economic and political–were under discussion at the ministerial level.


A group of Israeli technicians is expected to go to Cairo tomorrow to help set up the communications system for the talks. This was confirmed in the Egyptian capital today by the American Ambassador, Herman Eilts. Eilts made the announcement after a one-hour meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Boutros Ghali. He said he had asked Ghali for a meeting with President Anwar Sadat.

Meanwhile, American efforts continued to persuade other Arab leaders to join in or support the Camp David accords. President Carter’s special Ambassador to the Middle East, Alfred L. Atherton, was in Amman today for talks with King Hussein of Jordan. Earlier in the week he visited Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. He is due in Jerusalem tomorrow.

A committee headed by Gen. Avraham Tamir, which helped plan Israel’s strategy for the Camp David summit conference, has been reactivated and expanded to prepare a working paper for the negotiations with Egypt.

Meanwhile, Ehud Yaari, an Israel Broadcasting Authority correspondent, who was in Cairo today, reported that thousands of Cairenes were following the Knesset debate on radio and television. He said the mood in the Egyptian capital was hopeful but tense.

There was tension outside the Knesset today where some 2000 angry opponents of the Camp David accords demonstrated while the debate was in progress. They seemed resigned to the outcome, however, and as the session dragged on into the night, the crowds dispersed with no serious incidents.

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