JERUSALEM (Feb. 6)
Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon proposed today that Israel return the down of EI Arish in northern Sinai to Egypt at once as a unilateral gesture at good will to further the peace process. At the same time, he accused the United States Consulate in Jerusalem of “interfering” on the West Bank and charged that the Americans were “involved very actively” in efforts directed towards “bringing about the creation of a Palestinian entity and a Palestinian state.”
In an Army Radio interview and later in a prime time television broadcast tonight, Sharon alleged that U.S. officials offered legal aid to West Bankers and were involved in other activities, which he did not specify, “behind the back of Israel.” The reference to legal aid was apparently in connection with recent cases involving the army’s confiscation of Arab lands on the West Bank. Sharon is in charge of all settlement activity in-Israel and the occupied territories.
Sharon, the most outspoken hawk in Premier Menachem Begin’s Cabinet, said that EI Arish, if restored to Egyptian rule, could serve as the venue for ongoing bilateral talks on various levels between Israel and Egypt that were needed if the outstanding issues between them are to be resolved. Sharon said he first proposed the return of EI Arish to Begin in November 1977, on the day President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem. But it was later turned down by a Cabinet majority.
Sharon said that the Egyptians told Defense Minister Ezer Weizman eight months ago that they were surprised that the Israeli government had lacked the wisdom to respond to Sadat’s visit with a dramatic gesture of its own, such as the return of EI Arish.
But he hedged his proposal with the proviso that the Cabinet first hold a debate on the nature of the West Bank autonomy plan and other security issues. Sharon has long sought to force such a debate with the aim of securing a Cabinet decision that would impose strict limits on the extent of self-rule to be offered the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sharon was a bitted opponent of the Camp David accords which called for autonomy.