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Begin Says He Will Retain the Defense Ministry Post

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Premier Menachem Begin has mode it clear that he plans to remain Defense Minister for the foreseeable future, following the refusal of Knesset, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Mashe Arens to assume the post. Arens rejected Begin’s offer to become Defense Minister last week. The Premier has been acting in that capacity since Ezer Weizman resigned from the past last spring.

In a TV interview, Begin said that by law the Premier must hold the post if it is vacant, and he indicated there was no feasible candidate in the offing. He said that Mordechai Zipori was “excellent” in his present post as Deputy Defense Minister, thus putting to rest Zipori’s aspiration to be named Defense Minister.

As for Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who has mode it clear that he would like the Defense Ministry post, Begin said he was one of the world’s best generals but observed that three coalition partners–the Democratic Movement, the Liberals and the National Religious Party–opposed his candidacy. Thus, Begin said, if he were to name him to the post he would be left “without a government.”

The Premier was in vintage farm during the lengthy, wide-ranging interview. He partied and thrust with the three interviewers, repeatedly chiding the television broadcasts for presenting what he felt was too negative a picture of the government’s record. He cited figures to show that the government had provided housing solutions to more than 80,000 slum families and had put up 116 new settlements, on both sides of the Green Line, during its three years in office.

He said he was against advancing the elections from their November 1981 date because until November 1981 the government would be able to put up more new homes, further reduce the balance of payments deficit, and achieve success in its fight against inflation. If the election date was advanced, he added, the earliest it could be would be May or June 1981. He did not explain why this was so.

DENIES RELATIONS WITH U.S. DETERIORATING

The Premier flatly denied his interviewers’ assertions that relations with the U.S. were deteriorating or that Israel’s standing, there was being ended. The crises of 1948 and 1956 were incomparably, worse than the present situation, when President Carter is pledging not to pressure Israel and not to out back old, Begin said. Then the U.S. was denying Israel arms and threatening sanctions through the United Nations Security Council.

He denied, too, that Israel’s international isolation was deepening. When an interviewer adduced recent UN votes, Begin said these resolutions “are not bullets: they can’t kill.” They were the result of bloc voting coupled with the West’s kowtowing to oil interests, he asserted, and Israel should brace itself for more of the same.

He noted that even the U.S. never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “But we do not recognize their non-recognition,” he declared. “That will not determine the fate of Jerusalem.”

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