TEL AVIV (Feb. 28)
President Carter’s invitation to Premier Menachem Begin to come to Washington for bilateral discussions of the issues blocking a peace treaty with Egypt was widely viewed today as a vindication of yesterday’s Cabinet majority decision that Begin could not accept Carter’s earlier invitation to a summit conference without the participation of President Anwar Sadat.
Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin said the Cabinet’s 14-2 vote was justified by what developed later. He maintained that if the Cabinet had not vetoed Begin’s participation in an incomplete summit gathering, Carter’s telephone call from Washington inviting him for private talks would not have materialized.
The Cabinet’s resolution left the door open by authorizing Begin to go to Washington to meet with Carter. The President’s invitation came just hours after Begin’s detailed letter explaining his government’s position was delivered to the State Department by Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron.
A MOST DIFFICULT DECISION
Begin was reported to have told aides yesterday that rejection of Carter’s first invitation was one of the most difficult decisions of his career. The prevailing mood in Israel is that it was necessary if a “real peace” is to be achieved.
The tendency is to blame the American attitude for Egypt’s refusal to compromise with Israel an outstanding treaty issues and in fact, to submit even tougher demands during last week’s ministerial level talks at Camp David between Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. It was learned that one of Egypt’s new demands was for the immediate establishment of self-government in the Gaza Strip.
Only two Cabinet members voted against the majority decision, Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. Both have been more closely involved in the negotiations with Egypt and the U.S. than any other member of the government except Begin. Both felt that Begin should have accepted Carter’s first invitation to meet with him and Khalil at Camp David but for different reasons.
DIFFERENCES IN THE CABINET
Weizman dismissed the view that such a meeting without the participation of Sadat would be demeaning for Israel because Khalil is not Egypt’s top political authority. Weizman noted that Begin had many meetings with Carter’s special Ambassador to the Middle East Alfred Atherton, and no one considered It an insult.
He recalled that for more than 30 years Israel has sought to sit down at the negotiating table with the Egyptians. “Isn’t Mustapha Khalil on Egyptian delegate?” Weizman asked. But the Defense Minister stressed the practical need to revive the stalled peace talks. He expressed the belief that the more extreme positions presented by the Egyptians were not serious enough to undermine the prospects of reaching on agreement.
Dayan for his pan, agreed with the Cabinet majority that Egypt’s attempt to link autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza directly to a peace treaty contradicted the agreements reached at Camp David last September. But he thought that from a tactical point of view, Begin should have accepted Carter’s original invitation in order to remove the impression that Israel was blocking the peace process:
Some circles in Jerusalem hinted that Dayan should resign. They said that if a minister finds himself at adds with the Cabinet over issues that fall directly within his jurisdiction, he should “draw the necessary conclusions.” But in an interview published today in Davar, Dayan declared: “I shall not resign. There was no question of principle over which I should resign. The government simply did not accept my opinion. The time will come when I am proven to have been on the right side.”
Although Carter said yesterday that he might invite Khalil or Sadat to join himself and Begin if the situation warranted, Begin’s aides stressed that the President had mentioned no such possibility in his telephone conversation with Begin. “Carter spoke only about private talks with him,” Begin’s personal aide, Yeniel Kadishai, said today.