Momentous Step Toward Mideast Peace: Knesset Approves Camp David Accords by Vote of 84-19 and 17 Abs

The Knesset voted 84-19 early this morning to approve the Camp David agreements package, including the removal of the Sinai settlements. There were 17 abstentions. The roll call vote was taken at 4 a.m. local time after a marathon 17-hour debate, the longest in Knesset history.

Premier Menachem Begin fought hard for approval of the agreements against bitter opposition within his own Likud faction as well as from opposition elements. Summing up at the and of the debate, he said the Camp David agreements mean that the “cycle of war has ended, perhaps for five years but perhaps for 50.” He repeated his belief that a peace treaty with Egypt can be concluded in about two months instead of the three-month deadline set at Camp David.

(Immediately after the Knesset vote was announced, President Carter dispatched a letter of congratulations to Begin. He wrote, “This action by the representatives of the Israeli people takes us another step toward the goal we seek of a peaceful Middle East….I deeply admire the courage and skill with which you presented the agreements we reached at Camp David.”)

(The first reaction from Cairo came from Dr. Mansour Hassan, chairman of President Anwar Sadat’s National Democratic Party. He said the Knesset vote showed that Israel was willing to continue to follow the road to peace and hoped it was the first of many steps leading to a just peace in the Middle East that would guarantee the rights of all parties, including the Palestinians.)

BREAKDOWN OF THE VOTES

While the Knesset majority in favor of the Camp David accords was overwhelming, a breakdown of the votes indicated possible political trouble for Begin within his own Herut faction that he has ruled with an iron hand up to now.

Within the 70-member government coalition, 47 votes were cast in favor of the pacts. The proportion was less favorable within Likud. All 15 members of Likud’s Liberal Party faction supported the Premier but only nine of Herut’s 21 members supported him, seven voted against the agreements and five abstained. Only five of the National Religious Party’s 12 MKs favored the pacts, three voted against and four abstained.

Of the Labor Alignment’s 31 MKs, 24 supported the agreements, four voted “no” and three abstained. The pro-Moscow Rakah Communists also split, one member abstaining and four voting against the accords.

The Labor dissenters focused largely on the Sinai settlements which, they contended, could have been saved. Former Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, summing up for the opposition after the debate, urged the movement to try one more time to save the settlements, but government spokesmen said such an effort would be hopeless. Begin said in his wind-up speech that Carter had personally attempted many times during the 13-day Camp David summit to persuade Sadat to relent on the settlements, but to no avail. The “hard clear choice” facing the Knesset was peace or settlements, Begin declared.

FEAR OF SETTING PRECEDENT

The Likud and NRP dissenters expressed fear that the removal of the Sinai settlements would set a precedent for subsequent removals on other fronts. Herut MK Geula Cohen led a furious assault on Begin, accusing him of betraying principles he once would have died for and for which he had sent others to their deaths. But after the voting the Likud defectors sought to smooth over the split with Begin. Yosef Rom of Herut, who voted against the agreements, said that dissent within party ranks was not a challenge to Begin but a “red light” to warn him that similar concessions on other fronts would not be tolerated.

Throughout the debate, the Knesset concentrated on the Camp David framework dealing with Sinai and a peace treaty with Egypt. Scant attention was paid to the more complex agreement aimed at negotiations over the future status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is in that area, however, where the most dangerous pitfalls lie.

Begin is already embroiled in differences with Carter over the duration of the freeze on new settlements on the West Bank. Begin insists that he committed Israel to no more than a three-month freeze, the period of negotiations with Egypt. Carter insists that the agreement was to freeze settlements for the five-year transitional period of self-rule on the West Bank.

(Carter told reporters at a White House breakfast yesterday that he had a very clear understanding with Begin on this and warned that a very serious problem would arise if the Premier insisted that the moratorium was for only three months. “I don’t think there is any doubt about the language,” Carter was quoted as saying.) (See separate story.)

With the Camp David accords ratified by the Knesset, the way was open for a speedy start of negotiations with Egypt for a peace treaty. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, accompanied possibly by Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, is expected to head the Israeli delegation. It was learned, however, that Weizman probably will be the first to go to Cairo to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, War Minister Mohammed Gamassy, to make preparations for the joint Israeli-Egyptian military committee. Weizman is not expected to go to Cairo until after Yom Kippur.

A seven-member delegation of Israeli communications technicians, headed by Col. Yaacov Heichal will probably go to the Egyptian capital sooner. The U.S. is helping with the technical arrangements. Alfred L. Atherton, President Carter’s special ambassador to the Middle East, arrived here today from Amman and will assist in establishing the “modalities” for the upcoming talks with Egypt.

(A report today from Cairo said a senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry source stated that Ismailia will be the site for the initial Israeli-Egyptian talks on a peace treaty. The bulk of the talks, according to the source, will deal with military details concerning Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai.)

The main points, according to reports here, to be discussed will include the demarcation of the El Arish-Ras Mouhammed line to which the Israelis will withdraw nine months after signing the accord.

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