JERUSALEM (Nov. 14)
The American compromise proposal for resolving the “linkage” issue in the Israel-Egypt peace talks calls for Israel to undertake to hold the elections for West Bank-Gaza autonomy by December 1979, not within five months as Egypt has been demanding.
The advantage for Israel of this American proposal, over the original Egyptian demand is that it would free the West Bank developments from the tight parallelism with the Israel-Egypt treaty. Under that settlement, Israel is to complete its interim evacuation of Sinai within nine months and the exchange of ambassadors is to take place one month later.
Israel has argued that a linkage between that process and the implementation of West Bank autonomy, as Cairo demands, could result in Egypt contending that non-fulfillment of the West Bank schedule constitutes a breach of the Sinai treaty. Israel pointed out that entirely objective causes — Jordanian or Palestinian obstacles — could bring about a slowdown in the implementation of West Bank autonomy.
The U.S. is now urging its compromise idea on Jerusalem, arguing that since the crucial deadline will only be 12 months hence, Israel can accept it today secure in the knowledge that by then the “normalization” with Egypt will be an established fact.
ISRAELI TEAM FAVORING COMPROMISE
The Israeli negotiating team in Washington, it is understood, has recommended acceptance of the American compromise if all other outstanding issues — most of them relatively minor — can be concluded to Israel’s satisfaction. But there are no indications as yet that Premier Menachem Begin, who discussed the U.S. proposal with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in New York Sunday, has been won over. Begin will preside over the crucial Cabinet meeting tomorrow or Thursday at which a decision will be taken, and his position, of course, will be critical.
But observers here note that even if the Premier joins with Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan who flew home today to consult with Begin and attend the Cabinet session, and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who remained in Washington, in endorsing the U.S. compromise, he will have a hard time persuading a substantial majority of the ministers to back him.
The Cabinet’s deliberations during the three weeks of negotiations in Washington have revealed a sizeable group of ministers who consistently take hardline positions on the various Egyptian demands and American proposals.
Some of them appear to observers not to have entirely reconciled themselves to the Camp David accords and their import for the future. Others, such as Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir, though generally taking a moderate line, have become hawks in the context of these negotiations, and openly criticize the Israeli delegation for being too forthcoming and conciliatory.
SUSPICION OF EGYPTIAN MOTIVES
The Egyptian demand for linkage to a specific West Bank timetable, coming as it did late in the negotiations, has naturally bolstered the suspicion and mistrust of Egyptian motives prevalent among the Cabinet hardliners and will make them less inclined than ever to accept the American compromise.
According to one highly placed source, Begin is likely to recommend acceptance of virtually all the other provisions in the treaty package, and to urge the U.S. to attempt once again to soften still further the Egyptian linkage demand.
Begin is expected to argue that the commitment to a deadline — even the relatively comfortable deadline of 12 months — is likely to put a conditional aspect on the unfolding of the treaty execution, an aspect which Israel is determined to avoid. The Egyptians may even argue nine or 10 months from now that if West Bank election procedures are not agreed upon by then, they will not be agreed upon by the 12-month deadline and thereby revert to an implied linkage between the two schedules.
But reports from Washington say the Israel delegation is presenting the U.S. compromise to the Cabinet on what is virtually a take-it-or-leave-it basis, contending that this is the best available solution in the circumstances. Dayan, in a radio interview given before he left Washington and broadcast here today, noted pointedly that if the Israeli and Egyptian governments “do not bury” the prospect of progress, he would be able to return to Washington to conclude the negotiations.