Jerusalem (Dec. 3)
Coalition and opposition members of the Knesset joined forces today in a move to compel the government to submit the memorandum of understanding signed by the U.S. and Israel to the Knesset for ratification. It would be given four weeks to do so.
The bi-partisan group began drafting a private members bill to that effect only hours after Premier Menachem Begin’s coalition narrowly defeated four no-confidence motions based on opposition to the memorandum. The vote was 57-53 with two abstentions. At the same time, the Knesset’s Immigration and Absorption Committee met to discuss the implications of the memorandum for Soviet Jews.
The memorandum, signed in Washington Monday by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, establishes the framework for strategic cooperation between Israel and the U.S. against any “threat to peace and security of the region caused by the Soviet Union or Soviet-controlled forces from outside the region.”
During the grueling six-hour Knesset debate last night Likud leaders defended the memorandum against charges by Labor and other opposition factions that it placed Israel in the precarious position of direct confrontation with the Soviet Union but failed to gain any new commitment from the U.S. for Israel’s security against its Arab foes.
Likud MK Moshe Arens retorted that the USSR was more hostile toward Israel than many other countries and the agreement with the U.S. may be the proper answer. The Soviets take into consideration “factors which act” and have a certain force, he said.
Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres said today that the narrow defeat of the no confidence motions proved there was no parliamentary majority in favor of the agreement. Coalition members voted for it only because the government would have fallen had they not, Peres told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport before leaving on a trip to the U.S.
The deliberations of the Immigration and Absorption Committee, chaired by Labor MK Uzi Bar Am, reflected concern for Soviet Jews voiced by many MKs in the course of the debate. But a former Soviet Jewish activist, Michael Nudler, claimed in a radio interview today that Soviet Jews would support the memorandum. “This strategic agreement (with the U.S.) is the first step for Israel to be the leading force for the defense of Russian Jewry,” he said.