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Israel Ready to Hold Further Talks on Key Disputed Treaty Issues

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Israel has expressed its readiness to hold further negotiations with Egypt and with the United States on several key still-disputed issues in the stalled, nearly-concluded peace treaty negotiations.

In a Cabinet communique plainly designed to prompt Washington into renewed efforts to resume the talks, Israel announced yesterday its willingness to negotiate further on Article IV of the draft peace treaty (the “review clause”) and also on the “side letter” setting cut modalities for creation of the Palestine autonomy. There was also an expression of readiness to discuss with the U.S. the interpretation of the vexed–and crucially important–Article VI (issue of priority) of the draft treaty.

But in every case, the Cabinet reiterated Israel’s position, originally enunciated by the Cabinet on Dec. 15–after Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s unsuccessful shuttle mission to the area. Premier Menachem Begin, reading out the decision yesterday, stressed that the ### the previous decision (of Dec. 15) “In all its parts.” That decision listed all of the Egyptian demands which were effectively endorsed by Vance, and specifically rejected them. The Cabinet decision yesterday was immediately conveyed to Washington and Israeli officials said they now expected the U.S. to step up its efforts to get the talks restarted. The decision was supported by 14 ministers. Israel Radio said that Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Minister-Without-Portfolio Chaim Landau did not take port in the vote and Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon abstained.

ELEMENTS IN. THE CABINET’S DECISION

Yesterday’s decision expressed “Israel’s readiness to continue negotiations regarding an agreed formulation of the accompanying letter…” and immediately added Israel’s firm view that the “side letter” should contain no “target date” for the holding of the autonomy elections, as Egypt and the U.S. are seeking.

Similarly, yesterday’s Cabinet decision expressed specifically–and this is new, not having been mentioned in the Dec. 15 decision–readiness to hold further negotiations on Article IV and again immediately set out the Israeli position rejecting any “definitive, obligatory date framework.” (Egypt is seeking a specific-five-year deadline for a mandatory review of the security provisions in Sinai.)

On the interpretations to Article VI, the Cabinet statement endorsed a letter from Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan to Vance three days earlier in which Dayan had “totally rejected” the U.S. interpretation of Article VI, Paragraph 5. This paragraph is the “priority of obligations” clause. The U.S. State Department legal aide who helped draw up the treaty, in a written opinion, effectively upheld Egypt’s view that the paragraph would not bar Egypt from aiding a sister Arab state that was attacked by Israel.

The second paragraph of Article VI–expressing a legal severance between the peace treaty and the Camp David “framework” agreement on the Palestinian issue–is also in dispute. The Cabinet, in its decision yesterday, appeared to indicate that it would be ready for more talks with the U.S. on both disputed paragraphs.

In this connection, too, though, the Cabinet reiterated firmly Israel’s own “unlimited” interpretation of Article VI, thus setting out in clear terms in advance of the hoped-for further negotiations, Israel’s strong position on this key issue of dispute.

A SOFTENING OF ISRAEL’S POSITION

In all, yesterday’s Cabinet decision represented something of a softening, in tone if not in content, of the Israeli position relative to the brusque and angry statement issued following Vance’s mission. There is now a deliberate effort to persuade both Washington and Cairo of Israel’s view that there is sufficient subject matter for further negotiations despite Jerusalem’s refusal to date to shift from its substantive rejection of Egypt’s demands.

Officials here said they were confident the Americans and Egyptians would “take the hint” and accept Israel’s plainly preferred desire for further negotiations. Observers noted that the Cabinet decision followed closely along the lines of Dayan’s recommendations, made after his meeting in Brussels last weekend with Egyptian Premier Mustapha Khalil and Vance.

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