JERUSALEM (Nov. 15)
Premier Menachem Begin announced after a brief Cabinet session this morning that further deliberations on the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty negotiations in Washington would be postponed pending clarification of Egypt’s position. A Cabinet meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning was called off tentatively, Begin said, but the ministers will convene again as soon as the desired clarification is received.
Israel is waiting expectantly for news of President Carter’s meeting with Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak scheduled to take place in the White House today or tomorrow. Mubarak was sent to Washington yesterday with “a special message” for Carter from President Anwar Sadat.
The Israeli Cabinet’s action in the next few days is considered crucial to the treaty negotiations now in their fourth week. The immediate question is whether Israel will accept or reject the American compromise proposal on the key unresolved issue of linkage between a peace treaty and the autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Egypt is demanding linkage and a precise timetable for Israel’s implementation of the Camp David agreements. Israel is opposed. Washington has suggested that a letter accompany the peace treaty stating that elections on the West Bank and Gaza Strip be held within 12 months of the treaty signing, not the six months demanded by Egypt.
U.S. COMPROMISE IS PREFERABLE
While Begin was reliably reported to have balked against the very concept of linkage to a timetable, even if the latter is extended from six to 12 months, the American compromise is clearly preferable to the Egyptian demands. It means that the West Bank and Gaza elections would be held two months after Israel and Egypt establish normal diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors within the framework of a peace treaty and three months after the first phase of Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai is completed.
But Begin objects to a timetable in principle because objective difficulties–circumstances involving the Palestinians or Jordan over which Israel has no control — could delay implementation of the Camp David framework. In such a situation, he and other Israeli ministers fear, Egypt could very well blame Israel for failure to carry out its part of the bargain and withhold its “normalization” commitments.
Highly placed sources here say that despite these doubts, Israel would find it difficult to reject the American proposal if the Egyptians accepted it. The Cabinet remains divided. Haim Landau, a Herut hardliner, wants to reject the American compromise on grounds of “national honor.” He regards any proposal, from the U.S. or Egypt as a “diktat” unacceptable as a matter of principle.
But a leading moderate member of the Cabinet said privately today that Israel could live with the U.S. proposal if it was part of an overall package that resolved other outstanding problems to Israel’s satisfaction.
These include, he said, Egypt’s demand for a precise timetable for Israel’s evacuation of Sinai which Israel is reluctant to give for logistics and strategic reasons. The minister explained that Israel cannot pledge to withdraw totally from Sinai until its alternative air bases in the Negev are built and operational, even if this takes longer than the three years specified by the Camp David agreements.
Another obstacle cited was Egypt’s refusal so far to agree unequivocally to a watertight “priority of obligations” clause in the peace treaty — meaning that its treaty with Israel would supersede the many anti-Israel pacts Egypt has signed in the past. There is also Egypt’s troubling demand for a “presence” in the Gaza Strip which exceeds by far the role envisaged for Egypt in the Camp David accords.
Finally, Israel is deeply concerned over its failure so far to secure a definite American undertaking to help cover the costs of its withdrawal from Sinai and the redeployment of its forces in the Negev. Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori estimated before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee yesterday that this would cost about IL 60 billion. The issue does not involve Egypt. But Israel’s policymakers, it is believed, would be more forthcoming on disputed issues if they were assured of American material support.