Behind the Headlines the Cabinet Decision — All Things to All Men

The Cabinet decision yesterday to approve Premier Menachem Begin’s autonomy plan, but not to submit it — for the time being — to the Egyptians and Americans as a formal Israeli document, is being variously interpreted by the various schools of thought within the Cabinet.

According to the hardliners, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and Herut and National Religious Party ministers, the decision was a thump for their maximalist position on the content of the autonomy proposals which Begin who leheartedly endorsed and determinedly pushed through the Cobinet.

According to moderates such as Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, the decision not to submit the paper formally at this stage was a significant victory for their tactical approach. They had contended all along that it would be misguided and prejudicial to the negotiations to present the Egyptians with a tough and detailed official document at the outset of the talks. The Cabinet’s decision, formally was that the paper would be presented to the Egyptians and Americans but the Cabinet would decide on the timing of the presentation.

The hawks as well as the moderates claim a tactical victory. They say the decision not to present the paper May 25, when the negotiations begin at Beersheba, was based mainly on information conveyed through U.S. diplomatic channels that the Egyptians do not intend to present paper of their own at the opening meeting.

Presumably, one leading hawk told this reporter, the opening session will be devoted to speeches with no actual negotiating taking place until after the return of EI Arish to Egyptian sovereignty over the weekend. The hawks assert that the Israeli paper will indeed be presented, and simultaneously published, very soon.

SORTING OUT WHO WON

It is thus unclear at this point which of the ministers in fact emerged victorious from the drawn out autonomy debate, first in the II man ministerial autonomy committee and then in the full Cabinet. If the document is indeed submitted soon to the other parties, and officially published, the hardline majority will have been proven victorious.

If, on the other hand, the initial delay is the harbinger of an effective shelving of the plan — so that it is never officially submitted and remains always what it is today — an “internal guideline for the Israeli negotiators” — the moderate minority which includes such key ministers as Weizman, Yadin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, will have retroactively won the day.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, who is to lead the Israeli negotiators, refused today to supply members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with copies of the “plan. He told them that Begin had empowered him only to read it out, not to distribute it in writing.

INTENTIONS ARE IN DOUBT

It is apparently as a result of this present uncertainty that doubts have arisen as to Weizman’s and Dayan’s intentions. After the Cabinet meeting last night, reports circulated in the Knesset lobbies that the two ministers would at lend the opening session of the talks on Friday, having been “persuaded” by Begin and the Cabinet majority to withdraw their requests not to participate.

But, said these reports, they would not attend the negotiating sessions regularly thereafter. Some sources said there need not be political significance in this. Not all the sessions will require the full complement of six ministers on the Israeli side.

But others felt that the reports mean that Dayan and Weizman are biding their time and reserving their position on the tactics of the negotiation. If the Cabinet majority insists on presenting the plan to the Egyptians as a formal position paper, the two ministers may yet implement their earlier intention of withdrawing from the negotiations.

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