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Arens Rejects Defense Ministry Portfolio Offer from Begin

Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, today rejected an offer by Premier Menachem Begin to become Israel’s new Defense Minister.

The offer came three months after Ezer Weizman resigned from the ministry. Begin has served in this capacity ever since. Arens rejected the offer because he basically objects to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in its present form “in which we give too much for too little, “he said. Arens had voted against the signing of the treaty.

He repeated his known views in a meeting with Begin this morning. He said in a radio interview that he did not enter the meeting determined to reject the offer. He said he war ready to hear Begin’s arguments in favor of accepting the job, but after hearing what Begin had to say, he was still of the opinion that as a person holding negative views about the peace treaty, he could not hold the position of Defense Minister.

JOINT COMMUNIQUE ISSUED

At the end of the meeting, Begin and Arens issued the following joint communique: “The Prime Minister met today with Knesseter Moshe Arens. The Prime Minister reminded Arens of his visit two months ago to his aide, Yehiel Kodishai, Arens informed Kodishai of the time, that in the jace of reports in the press that the Prime Minister was about to ask Arens to join the Cabinet as Defense Minister, Arens wanted to notify Begin that due to political differences with the government he could not accept.

“Today, the Prime Minister and Arens met for a personal talk to discuss the issue. The Prime Minister told Arens that a number of friends had told him that they have talked with Arens and were under the impression that this time he would be ready to join the government if he were offered the defense portfolio. The Prime Minister informed Arens that if that impression was correct he was ready to make the offer. Arens explained to the Prime Minister that he has not changed his views, and due to differences with the government and its policy he could not join it. The Prime Minister took note of this statement.”

ARENS HAS NOT CHANGED HIS MIND

In a radio interview following the meeting, Arens said: “The Camp David agreement and the peace treaty with Egypt are regarded by the Prime Minister as one of the major achievements of its rule. It is no secret that I opposed both agreements and I have not changed my mind. One could have assumed that in the course of time events would have caused me to change my mind, but I am sorry to say that this is not the case.”

Arens said Begin could continue to serve as Defense Minister and there was no justified criticism of the way the defense establishment was functioning since Begin assumed the powers of the Defense Ministry. Arens said he would support any candidate of the Premier for the Defense Ministry including Ariel Sharon who was “a very good candidate.”

Arens said there was no contradiction between his membership in Likud and his objection to a central feature of the present government’s policy such as the peace agreement with Egypt. A Knesseter could disagree with certain elements of the government’s policy, he said. “However, a member of the Cabinet would have to identify with all the basic points of the government’s policy.”

Haim Corfu, chairman of the Likud coalition, said Arens refusal to accept Begin’s offer has made it embarrassing for the Premier. But Avraham Shanr, chairman of the Likud Knesset faction, praised Arens’ “courage,” noting that it is a strange phenomenon in politics for a person to adhere to a principled position.

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