JERUSALEM (Dec. 3)
Premier Menachem Begin will reply to the special message he received last Thursday from President Anwar Sadat of Egypt this week, possibly as early as tomorrow, before leaving for Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10. So far the government has maintained an unusual silence about the message which was delivered to Begin by U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Samuel Lewis.
The Cabinet met today for four hours to formulate a reply to Sadat amidst growing understanding that the peace negotiations may take several weeks before they are concluded. The Cabinet authorized Begin to prepare a reply to Sadat, but the content of Sadat’s letter was not released for publication.
Talking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Begin said both countries agreed to keep secret the content of Sadat’s letter and Israel’s reply. “This is a very important contact between our two governments,” the Premier said. “Both countries agreed not to make public the contents of the communications unless agreed otherwise.”
It was learned, however, that in general, Sadat expressed the desire to continue with the peace negotiations. Sadat reportedly explained that Egypt’s demand to drop Article VI in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty draft–giving the treaty priority over earlier agreements between Egypt and other Arab countries–and linking Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai with the issue of autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not mean that Egypt was trying to keep an option open not to fulfill its obligations. Begin is expected to reject these demands, which have bogged down the peace negotiations.
Observers here see Sadat’s message as part of a new “peace offensive” on the part of the Egyptian President in an effort to soften the Israeli stand and perhaps allow for mare American pressure on Israel. However, the observers also noted the “warm character” of Sadat’s message to Begin.
It was also understood that Israel does not, at least presently, intend to sent its negotiating team back to Washington. “There is no crisis,” some Cabinet ministers said as they emerged from the Cabinet meeting, “but neither is there a breakthrough.” (See related stories, P. 3.)