Jerusalem (Nov. 26)
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir is flying to Washington tomorrow to confer with Secretary of State Alexander Haig over Israel’s objections to the terms set forth by Britain, France, Italy and The Netherlands for their participation in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai.
Premier Menachem Begin held urgent consultations this morning with Shamir and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Israel has made it clear that it is unalterably opposed to the statements issued by the four powers Monday, along with a declaration on behalf of all 10 member-states of the European Economic Community (EEC), affirming that the EEC’s Venice declaration of June, 1980 rather than the full Camp David formula, is the framework for their joining the Sinai peacekeeping force. The Venice declaration calls for the Palestine Liberation Organization to be associated with the Middle East peace process.
‘NO ROOM FOR ISRAELI FLEXIBILITY’
Haig met for 90 minutes with Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron yesterday and urged Israel not to reject European participation. (See separate story.)
Shamir said, after his meeting with Begin today that there was “no room for Israeli flexibility” on this issue. He insisted, at the same time, that there was no U.S. pressure on Israel although he conceded that there were differences between the two countries.
Other Israeli officials rejected the notion that Haig had summoned Shamir to Washington. They said it was only natural that Israel should want to convey its position to the U.S. While admitting that the situation was delicate, they expected the meeting would be conducted in the most friendly atmosphere.
Begin also met today with Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, who agreed to support the government in opposition to European participation in the Sinai peacekeeping force on the terms stated by the EEC countries.
Peres observed that the MFO, which will patrol Sinai after Israel completes its withdrawal next April, was “part and parcel” of the Camp David agreements and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and therefore had to be based on those documents. “It was rather unwise and completely unnecessary for some European countries to add to the Camp David accords some items which twist them and negates them in many ways,” Peres said.
At the moment, the Cabinet is expected to reject outright the participation of the four Western European powers when it meets Sunday. The Cabinet decision will also apply to Australia, whose Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, said Tuesday that his country was willing to send a contingent to the MFO if Israel accepts European participation. Fraser said it would be a tragedy if Israel rejected them.
Begin, nevertheless, was furious over the European formula. In a public appearance in Tel Aviv, Tuesday night he lashed out at British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington in particular, advising him to keep his troops at home and make peace in northern Ireland and let him (Begin) make peace between Israel and the Arabs. Carrington is a prime supporter of the Mideast plan proposed by Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia and of PLO participation in the Mideast peace process.
Shamir was more circumspect. Meeting with a visiting delegation of American Jewish newspaper editors, he observed that the European statements had “not made it any easier for us to decide” about their participation in the MFO.
Privately, Israeli officials accused the Europeans, and Carrington in particular, of “pulling a fast one.” They noted that last Sunday the four European Ambassadors had presented Israel and Egypt with a formal joint statement announcing their agreement to join the MFO. The European diplomats acknowledged at the same time that there would be a further statement by the 10 EEC member-states which might not be to Israel’s liking and that, in addition, each of the four governments would make separate statements to the respective parliaments.
INITIAL STATEMENT WAS ACCEPTABLE
The initial joint statement was examined by Israel and found fully acceptable, the officials said. But the following day, the four governments simultaneously released statements which lumped their original offer together with elements unacceptable to Israel.
Their statements to their parliaments were almost identical, the officials said. Israel, therefore, could not accept the Europeans’ contention that these statements were internal political clarifications and not part of the overall package of official statements connected to their participation in the MFO.
In these separate, individual statements, the four powers did precisely what Begin had warned repeatedly and publicly that they must not do — link their participation in the MFO to their adherence to the Venice declaration.
The four powers asserted that their participation “follows from” the Venice policy which, “while insisting on guarantees for the security of Israel, places equal emphasis on justice for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination. It also holds that the PLO must be involved in the process leading to a comprehensive peace.”
Equally unacceptable to Israel was the further assertion that their participation in the MFO was “specifically distinct from and independent of the rest of the Camp David process,” meaning that it supported only Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, not the negotiations for Palestinian autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There was speculation here today that the U.S. will offer Israel a declaration of its own stressing that Camp David and the peace treaty are the only binding framework for the MFO. The Americans were said to be hoping that such a declaration would neutralize the effect of the European statements but so far Begin has refused to accept this approach.
Adding to Israel’s latest difficulties with the U.S. is the unclear nature of the strategic cooperation agreement which Defense Minister Sharon is expected to sign in Washington next week. A U.S. draft which reached Israel this week drew mixed reactions here. It is understood to offer joint air and sea exercises on an ongoing basis and intelligence sharing. It does not offer precisely what Israel was hoping for: stockpiling of U.S. armor and other weaponry in Israel to be serviced by the Israeli defense forces.
On the other hand, the American draft was said to hold out prospects for increased Israeli military exports to the U.S. According to Kol Israel Radio, Begin is inclined to accept the American draft as a reasonable military achievement and a significant political success. But Sharon opposes it on grounds that strategic cooperation should be much more broadly based.
EITAN ISSUES A WARNING
Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan warned today that if the MFO is not established in Sinai, Israel would exercise its prerogative not to withdraw from the peninsula next April. Eitan said he was speaking for Begin.
He said the MFO was a guarantee that the Camp David accords would be implemented but it was no guarantee of Israel’s security. He stressed that while the UN would have no influence on the MFO, the countries contributing to it could pull out their units if they so wished. The U.S. has said that the MFO could function even without European participation. Americans will comprise about half of the 2,500-member force and, according to the U.S., Fiji, Colombia and Uruguay are committed to provide contingents.