JERUSALEM (Mar. 19)
The Cabinet approved the Israeli Egyptian peace treaty and annexes by a vote of 15-2 today and empowered Premier Menachem Begin to request approval by the Knesset which will begin debate on the treaty tomorrow The only negative votes were cast by Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and Transport Minister Haim Landau, both long-time opponents of the peace negotiations with Egypt.
Although the volatile issue of autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip was discussed during the Cabinet’s five-hour debate today, on all-out fight was averted when the Cabinet approved Begin’s proposal to appoint an II-member-ministerial committee under his personal chairmanship to draft a program for autonomy in those territories. This mollified the National Religious Party which supported the government on the treaty but made clear that this was conditional on an autonomy plan that ensured continued Israeli military rule and settlement activities in the occupied territories.
Today’s Cabinet decision removed the first major hurdle in the way of a peace treaty signing which is expected to take place in Washington, possibly next Monday afternoon. The Cabinet was originally to have met yesterday but the session was postponed to this morning because Begin was ill with the flu.
PREDICT KNESSET MAJORITY APPROVAL
Knesset approval is the second hurdle Begin has announced that no treaty would be signed unless first approved by the Knesset, paragraph by paragraph. Most observers predict approval by an over whelming majority, but not before prolonged and heated debate which is expected to last through Wednesday night. The Central Committee of the Labor Party, the largest opposition faction, voted 111 -14 last night, with seven abstentions, to support
It also voted by substantial majorities to impose party discipline in the Knesset vote and to submit an “autonomy paper” to the Knesset representing Labor’s views on the subject. These proposals, based on the so-called Allon plan, establish security regions to be retained by Israel which would embrace settlements in the Jordan Valley, the Gush Etzion and the southern Gaza Strip. The 14 Laborites who voted against the peace treaty were opposed to a treaty in any form and represent only a fraction of Labor. With Labor backing the government, Knesset approval of the treaty appeared a virtual certainty.
It was learned, meanwhile, that the Israeli delegation to the treaty signing will leave for the U.S. on Friday, headed by Begin. He will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and the entire eight-man ministerial defense committee. Begin’s top aides and a number of senior government officials will also attend Begin will sign the document for Israel and President Anwar Sadat for Egypt. President Carter will sign for the U.S. as witness. The ceremony is due to be followed the next day by a festive joint session of Congress to be attended by Carter, Begin and Sadat.
U.S. TO PUBLISH ENGLISH TREATY TEXT
(In Washington, meanwhile, State Department spokesmen Thomas Reston disclosed today that the U.S. intends to publish the English language text of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and the side letters pertaining to it “shortly.” At the same time, Carter’s special Ambassador to the Middle East, Alfred Atherton, met separately with Weizman and Egyptian Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali at their hotel in an effort to speed completion of the military annexes to the treaty.
(Weizman and Hassan Ali have been meeting since last week on this aspect of the treaty and would like to complete it before Weizman’s planned departure for Israel tonight. Weizman also met today with Defense Secretary Harold Brown to conclude an agreement on the U.S. financial contribution toward the withdrawal of Israeli forces from bases in Sinai.)