JERUSALEM (Dec. 19)
Fremier Menachem Begin defended Israel’s unqualified opposition to the latest Egyptian proposals to alter the draft peace treaty in an impassioned speech in the Knesset today, flatly rejected U.S. pressure on Israel to ease its stand and called on Americans to recognize that Israel is an important factor in the “Western world and should not be weakened.” He stressed “the mutual aid between the two countries.”
Begin opened the political debate over the breakdown of peace talks with Egypt. The Knesset, despite its political and ideological diversities, was virtually unanimous in support of the government’s position. Leaders of the coalition and opposition parties agreed that Israel must make no more concessions in face of pressure.
Declaring that blame for suspension of the peace talks lays entirely with “the other side,” Begin insisted that Israel was ready to sign the draft treaty as originally approved but would not sign a peace treaty that would become void of its original content by the interpretations attached to it.
Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan charged that the Egyptians retreated from their main contribution to the treaty — the normalization of relations with Israel. Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, said that while his party did not approve of the government’s peace plan, it was united behind the government’s peace policy.
“Our cause is just,” Begin said. “If it only depended on us then the treaty could have been signed on any date after November 18. We sacrificed a lot and it hurts….We want peace and we believe in peace but we are not willing to sign a treaty that will be emptied of its contents by what is called a list of interpretations.”
Dayan, who spoke as the chief of the Israeli negotiating team at the Blair House conference in Washington, stressed that even if a peace agreement had been signed, the peace process was still a long and difficult one.