JERUSALEM (Mar. 27)
Premier Menachem Begin took a tough line toward President Carter on the settlements issue and defied his critics at home in a television interview yesterday in which he declared that his government would complete its present term of office and that he would stand for reelection afterwards.
Begin, who will meet with Carter in Washington next month, said: “If President Carter asks me to freeze the settlements I shall tell him this is our right, this is our duty and it is an integral part of our national security and we must settle.” He said he and Carter had been at adds over the settlements since their first meeting in July, 1977.
The Premier flatly rejected the latest American proposal this week that Israel freeze settlements until May 26, the target date for completion of the autonomy talks with Egypt. The U.S. cited as a precedent the three-month freeze during the peace treaty negotiations with Egypt. But Begin said, “Even then it was not really a freeze, since we continued to strengthen existing settlements. That undertaking expired a long time ago and if it were renewed there would never be on end to it.”
CORRECTING AN HISTORIC WRONG
Although last Sunday’s Cabinet decision to establish Jewish religious institutions in the heart of the West Bank Arab town of Hebron polarized opinion in Israel and has drawn criticism from many of Israel’s friends abroad, Begin was adamant on the subject. He said it was not a political decision but merely the “correction” of on historic wrong when Hebron Jews were killed by Arabs in the 1929 uprising.
Begin said the fact that the Cabinet’s decision was adopted by a narrow margin mode it no less valid. “Even a majority of one is a majority,” he said. He said he was confident that the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee would reject the Democratic Movement’s appeal against the Hebron decision.
Begin said his government would continue to rule as long as it has a Knesset majority “and all of the Peace Now demonstratives with not help. He said he had no intention of resigning “even if 50,000 people demonstrated because they do not constitute more than 21/2 mandates in the Knesset.” He said most of his fellow ministers felt the government should serve out its term “in view of the progress made in various fields. “He said he would run in the next elections but would retire from politics when he turns 70 three years from now.
With respect to Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s recent hints that he might resign because of his conflicts with government policies, Begin said “It happened before that a minister resigned and the government did not fall.”
Reacting to the Begin interview, the opposition Labor Party said it proved that the Premier is not living in the real world and does not understand what is happening around him. “The time has passed when Begin could appear on the (TV) screen and try to mislead the people that the economic situation is improving and the international situation is better than ever, “a Labor spokesman said.