TEL AVIV (Mar. 13)
Israeli political leaders expressed mixed reactions-tonight to Premier Menachem Begin’s announcement that a peace treaty with Egypt could be signed by the end of next week if the Cabinet and Knesset approve the latest proposals. Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, said that while he continued to oppose the autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Labor Alignment would support the peace treaty as it did the Camp David accords last September.
Asked if Labor would enforce party discipline when the matter comes to the Knesset, Peres said that if any member of the faction asked for permission to vote otherwise, “we shall consider it” But so far there have been no such requests, he said.
Yehuda Ben Meir, of the National Religious Party, a coalition partner, declined to express his own views on the Latest developments. He said the NRP Knesset faction would convene to morrow morning to discuss the situation. But Moshe Shamir, of Likud, a die-hard opponent of the Camp David agreements, said If the Knesset approved a treaty he would consider resigning from Likud. He said the news of a breakthrough was not unexpected but saddened him and was “a sad day for Israel.”
CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS EXPRESS HOPE
(In Washington, meanwhile, Congressional leaders prepared to welcome President Carter who is due to return after midnight. Sen. Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, the Democratic Majority Leader, expressed hope that the Knesset would approve the agreements on the remaining issues and that a treaty would be signed. He praised Carter for doing “what had to be done in order to keep the Camp David spirit alive and the negotiations moving.”
(Rep. Thomas O’Neill (D. Mass.), the Speaker of the House, said of Carter, “We respect and admire his courage, his integrity and morals in attempting a thing like this. We think great strides of success have been made.” Sen Howard Baker of Tennessee, the Republican Minority Leader, said he believed Carter’s risk had been worth taking, regardless of the outcome.)
BREAK THROUGH CAME AT BREAKFAST MEETING
Begin, in his Israel Radio interview (See story P. I), would not say publicly whether he would recommend to the Cabinet tomorrow to accept the latest U.S. proposals (the acceptance of which by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat this afternoon in Cairo was the “good tiding” that Carter had telephoned him from Cairo). But again, Begin left the distinct impression that he would favor acceptance and political observers felt the Premier would put the full weight of his office and authority behind his position in the Cabinet.
Informed sources said the real breakthrough had come during today’s breakfast meeting, when Begin took decisions on his own authority, acting, in the words of one key official, “like a Prime Minister.” Other ministers were not aware, as they attended the midday departure ceremony for Carter at Ben Gurion Airport, of the extent of the agreement reached between the President and the Premier at that breakfast meeting.
With Peres immediately reacting in favor of the deal, there seemed little doubt that it would pass the Knesset test comfortably–though the meeting is sure to be stormy and emotional. Begin in his interview reckoned that the Knesset decision might last a full day or even longer.
Meanwhile, Begin revealed that Carter had asked him, in Washington 10 days ago, whether Israel would be interested in a formal defense pact with the U.S. Begin said he had replied in the affirmative, but had stressed that the initiative for this must come from the U.S., as the great power offering the pact: He left the clear impression that the defense pact idea would be the subject of further negotiation now between Washington and Jerusalem, and said specifically that he would recommend to his Cabinet to endorse the idea.