Ehrlich Terms Saudi Plan a ‘turning Point’

Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich today described the Middle East peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia as a “turning point,” noting that “this is the first time this country (Saudi Arabia) speaks of Israel’s right to exist.” But, he added, despite this “we should not be too excited. It is not a new plan and its aim is to bring about the end of Israel” by gradual stages.

Ehrlich offered this view at the first meeting of the new Cabinet which he chaired in the absence of Premier Menachem Begin who is vacationing in Nahariya. He was referring to one of the eight points in the plan which called for guaranteeing the right of all states in the area to “live in peace.” The plan, which was proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Fahd in an interview with the official Saudi News Agency last Friday, did not specifically refer to Israel by name. The plan also did not mention the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who briefed the Cabinet on the plan, was highly critical of it. In an interview in Yediot Achronot he said there was nothing new in the plan. “Even the implied Saudi willingness to recognize Israel is not new,” Shamir said. “The plan and all its details are dangerous to Israel. We rejected it in the past and we reject it now.”

LABOR LEADERS REJECT MOST POINTS OF PLAN

Leaders of the Labor Party rejected most of the points in Fahd’s plan but welcomed the part which spoke of the right of people in the region to live in peace. Party chairman Shimon Peres also told Yediot that the plan “includes one new element — willingness to reach peace with Israel. The other points, such as Israel returning to its 1967 borders, establishment of a Palestinian state and dividing Jerusalem (with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state) are old proposals and it is inconceivable that Israel will accept them.” He added that “dictating preconditions will only block peace. The Saudis should know what Israel can and cannot accept. Their conditions are unacceptable.”

Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin also told Yediot that the Saudi plan must be rejected. “But Saudi Arabia’s readiness to be involved in efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute is very positive,” he said. “We should therefore reject the plan but call on Saudi Arabia to negotiate with Israel.”

10 DEPUTY MINISTERS APPOINTED

Most of today’s Cabinet sessions was devoted to administrative matters. Ten Deputy Ministers– the highest number ever to serve in a Cabinet in Israel’s history — were appointed. Observers said the large number of deputies, named to satisfy the demands of Likud’s coalition partners in return for their support, may create some financial difficculties for Finance Minister Yoram Aridor who recently ordered a freeze on added expenditures and personnel in the government.

Economists calculated that the 10 deputies will cost some 7 to 10 million Shekels a year. This includes their annual salaries, full staffs with aides and secretaries, office space and equipment. Several deputies are already balking at Begin’s announcement last week that Deputy Ministers will not be entitled to use government cars for transportation but will have to use their own cars or travel by taxis.

The Deputy Ministers are: Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir (National Religious Party), Deputy Foreign Minister; Miriam Glazer-Tassa (Likud) Education; Pessach Grupper (Liberal Party) and Michael Dekel (Likud), Agriculture; Moshe Katzav (Likud), Housing; Haim Druckman (NRP), Religious Affairs; Aharon Uzzan (Tami), Absorption; Bension Rubin (Tami), Labor and Special Welfare; Dov Shilansky (Likud), Premier’s Office; and David Shiffman (Likud), Transportation.

The Cabinet also approved the establishment of the Ministry of Tourism as a separate Ministry. It had been previously part of the Trade and Industry Ministry. The Cabinet also approved that the name of the Religious Ministry be changed to Ministry for Religious Affairs. It was also decided by the Cabinet to transfer Project Renewal from the Premier’s Office to the Ministry of Construction.

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