JERUSALEM (Oct. 21)
Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan resigned from the government today declaring that he could not continue to serve because of his disagreement with the Cabinet majority over the conduct of the autonomy negotiations with Egypt and other basic policy matters and because he and his office have been relegated to a secondary role in foreign affairs.
Dayan announced his resignation after briefing the Cabinet on the current political situation. The announcement took his fellow ministers by surprise, except for Premier Menachem Begin who knew of Dayan’s intentions two weeks ago and had the Foreign Minister’s letter of resignation in hand. Begin expressed deep regret over Dayan’s decision and praised his contributions to the peace process over the past two years. He said Dayan’s resignation was an important “national and international event” but stressed that the government will continue to fulfill all of its obligations.
According to law, Dayan’s resignation takes effect 48 hours after its submission to the Prime Minister. There was no indication of who will replace him. Begin said that for the time being he would handle the Foreign Ministry post himself.
REACTIONS ARE SWIFT
Reaction to Dayan’s bombshell announcement was swift. Labor Party spokesmen declared it spelled the beginning of the end of Begin’s Likud coalition government and its “bankrupt” policies. But opponents of Dayan’s moderate policies in Herut and the National Religious Party welcomed his departure.
(In Cairo today, Egypt’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Butros Ghali, a participant in the autonomy negotiations, said Dayan’s resignation was proof that the Israeli government’s settlement policies on the West Bank were an obstacle to peace and that this was recognized even within Israel.)
Associates of the Foreign Minister said today that his resignation had nothing to do with his health. Dayan underwent surgery last June for the removal of a malignant tumor from his intestines but was reported to have recovered fully.
SPELLS OUT DETAILS
Dayan, speaking to reporters at his home in the Zohala section of Tel Aviv after today’s Cabinet session, spelled out in some detail his reasons for quitting the government that he joined two years and four months ago. He said he found himself in a situation where neither he nor his ministry were participating in key policy formulations. In fact, he said, he was dealing only with minor matters and this was not coincidental but stemmed from his disagreements with the Cabinet majority.
He made it clear that he was dissatisfied with the progress of the autonomy talks under Interior Minister Yosef Burg of the National Religious Party who Begin selected to head the Israeli negotiating team. “As long as we had the peace negotiations with Egypt, I was engaged in political work and there was an understanding between the Premier and myself,” Dayan said.
“However, when the second chapter began, the negotiations over autonomy, I refused to head the Israeli negotiating team because I do not express the basic position of the present condition on this issue. In brief, in what I wanted to deal, I do not deal. With what I deal, I do not want to deal cocktails and ceremonials. Under this situation there was no point in my being Foreign Minister. We need a Foreign Minister whose views are accepted by the Cabinet and who, on the most important subject of relations with the Arabs, can express the views of the government and I am not that person.”
In recent months Dayan has proposed that in the absence of progress in the autonomy talks, Israel should take such unilateral steps as removing its army from the occupied territories and replacing it with local civilian bodies. He also stressed the need to negotiate with local Palestinians, excluding members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. But he himself came under fire recently for meeting privately with well-known PLO supporters on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and informing Begin only after the fact.
RESIGNS WITHOUT RANCOR
Dayan resigned without rancor. In his letter of resignation he said he had “favorable ideas about the government and the Premier.” It was learned today that he first informed Begin of his intentions in a letter dated Oct. 2. He planned at that time to remain in office until December after completing several assignments including visits to the United States and Mexico. Cancellation of his Mexican visit decided Dayan to advance the date of his departure.
It appeared clear that he had already made up his mind to quit the government when the Cabinet debated the controversial issue of seizing Arab lands on the West Bank and Gaza Strip to make room for large scale Jewish settlements last Sunday. The Cabinet’s decision to expand existing settlements without resorting to the expropriation of privately owned land was seen as a victory for the Foreign Minister.
POLITICAL FIGURES COMMENT
Several prominent political figures in and outside the government commented on Dayan’s resignation today. Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, leader of the Democratic Movement who is recovering from a mild heart attack, expressed surprise and regret. MK Yossi Sarid of the Labor Alignment said Dayan’s departure should not be regarded as a personal step but as a “letter of resignation to the government’s bankrupt policy.” Dayan was always among the first to sense “When a ship was sinking” and to promptly leave it, Sarid said, a reference to his resignation from the Labor Party shortly before it went down to defeat in the 1977 elections.
Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, interviewed in New York today, said he was surprised by the timing of Dayan’s resignation but had nonetheless expected it considering the deteriorating state of the Begin government. Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban said “Dayan was in the impossible position of handling secondary issues while he differed with the government on the most vital one, the question of autonomy.”
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who was in Cairo today for meetings with Egypt’s Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, told reporters that Dayan’s resignation would not help the moderates in the Israeli Cabinet. Asked if it would have a detrimental effect on the peace process, his reply was “yes, and no.” He indicated that while he shared many of Dayan’s views, he had no plans to quit the government.
NO EFFECT ON PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY
Political observers said today that Dayan’s resignation would have no effect on Begin’s parliamentary majority. The outgoing Foreign Minister never joined Likud. He retained his Knesset seat as an independent one-man faction and has no particular constituency. His traditional supporters, former colleagues of the Rafi wing of the Labor Party, are now members of the die-hard Loam component of Likud and follow policies closer to those of Herut and the NRP, the observers noted. On the other hand, they said, Begin’s government has last one of its more brilliant members and this will contribute to the deterioration of its public image.
According to the observers, a reshuffling of the Cabinet, demanded by the NRP and some Likud ministers but resisted by Begin, is now unavoidable. Whatever form the reshuffle takes, Dayan’s resignation has weakened the more moderate wing of the coalition which was headed by himself and Weizman.
The NRP, supported by hard-liners such as Transport Minister Haim Landau and Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, may now be in a position to push more activist policies with regard to settlements and autonomy, the observers said. On the other hand, this would probably force the Democratic Movement to leave the coalition, diminishing Likud’s Knesset majority by seven seats.
STORMY POLITICAL CAREER
Dayan’s political career has been stormy. As Defense Minister and acknowledged author of Israel’s strategy in the Six-Day War, he emerged as Israel’s No. 1 hero. He served as Defense Minister in the Cabinets of Premiers Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. But his reputation plummeted after the Yom Kippur War and, although cleared of any responsibility for Israel’s lack of preparedness in October, 1973, he subsequently resigned from