NEW YORK (Jan. 10)
Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said today that he does not believe that Israel will be able to solve the problem of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank until there is a government of national unity. He explained that a freeze on new Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the future of the existing one’s was the hardest question faced by Israeli Premier Menachem Begin. “I can’t see him Begin giving in easily on the settlements,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s suggestion came during a press conference in his suite at the Woldorf-Astoria Hotel conducted under the auspices of the American Technion Society. He came here from Los Angeles where he had been speaking on behalf of the Haifa Technion. The former Labor Prime Minister indicated that a national unity government in Israel might have to be headed by a Labor Premier, but added that he saw no reason why it could not also be led by Begin.
He said that during his visits to Israel, most recently as the British representative at Golda Meir’s funeral, he found the need for such a government stressed by foreign observers and some Israelis. He said a national unity government was also necessary because of “Israel’s chronic economic problem,” particularly because of the “enormous power” of Histadrut.
Begin, since becoming Premier, has urged the opposition Labor Alignment to join the government, but it has refused. Wilson noted that such governments are difficult to create since the opposition always believes it will be back in power soon and the party in power wants to hold on to it. Asked whether he agreed with President Carter that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank were illegal, Wilson replied. “I don’t think one will get very far with that.” He said that while the West Bank and Gaza is a difficult problem, he saw some opportunity in the proposal to give the inhabitants there self-rule.
SEES POSSIBILITY OF PEACE TREATY
Wilson said that he saw a possibility that Israel and Egypt would achieve a peace treaty this year but continued that the negotiations will be long. He praised Carter for his achievements at Camp David but stressed that any Mideast settlement must be reached, “bilaterally” between Israel and Egypt.
The former Prime Minister said that Britain and West Europe can help the present negotiations by “keeping out” and watching hopefully, although they would be glad to help if asked. While not mentioning the U.S. specifically, he said, “I don’t think anyone outside is in a position to force a settlement” on Israel or Egypt.
Wilson-also stressed that any peace treaty must ensure that the Smites of Tiran remain open to Israel. He recalled that in 1967 when he was Prime Minister he and President Johnson had agreed to send a British-American force of three or four warships through the straits after Egyptian President Gamal Nasser had closed it to Israeli shipping. But before this could be worked out Israel. “cleared” the straits up effectively in the Six-Day War, Wilson explained.
Wilson also noted that the new government of Iran will be more Moslem Arab oriented and because of that, Israel will be more politically isolated. He said this could also mean a cutoff in Iranian oil to Israel, although he did not know if this would actually happen.