(Jerusalem), and Hugh Orgel (Tel Aviv) (Dec. 21)
The future of relations with Washington was a subject of serious concern here following Premier Menachem Begin’s unprecedented attack on the Reagan Administration yesterday for suspending the U.S. -Israel strategic cooperation agreement. But there were indications that both sides would like to cool the situation.
The status of the agreement remained uncertain. Begin accused the Administration of “abrogating” it to “punish” Israel for its annexation of the Golan Heights a week ago and declared that this made the pact “null and void.”
The Cabinet did not formally ratify Begin’s statement but, according to a close aide “no one expressed any reservations or objections” at yesterday’s session. Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor told reporters later that the Premier’s statement has the “validity” of a Cabinet decision even though not formally endorsed. It was learned, however, that discussion was cut short because Begin was in severe pain from his recent hip surgery.
DIVISION OVER BEGIN’S STATEMENT
Nevertheless, the Cabinet appears to be divided over Begin’s caustic statement to U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis, later made public, a departure from normal diplomatic practice. Some Ministers told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency privately that they were pleased with Begin’s performance because the Administration’s “punishment” of Israel was “disproportionate” and intended to please and appease the Arabs. One Minister contended it would galvanize American Jewish support behind Israel.
There had been an uncomfortable awareness here last week that the organized American Jewish community was less than enthusiastic over Israel’s Golan law. But there were also strong feelings here that Begin had “gone too far” in his bitter cataloguing of Israel’s grievances against the U.S.
Several of the more moderate Ministers are reported to have complained privately that Begin has been repeatedly confronting the Cabinet with faits accomplis. The U.S. -Israel memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation was approved in advance of its signing November 30 at a hurried Cabinet meeting in Begin’s hospital room. Begin has now declared it abrogated before the Ministers had a chance to study it in full and form ally ratify it.
But rumblings of protest within the Cabine have been muted. The Labor opposition, mean while, is preparing a motion of no confidence to be presented to the Knesset Wednesday. It is expected to be defeated.
Israeli officials are nevertheless pleased and relieved by Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s low key reaction to Begin’s blast at the Administration. In a television appearance yesterday, Haig stressed the “vital importance of our obligations to the people of Israel and guarantees to the survival of that state. Nothing has changed.” Israeli newspapers reported today that Washington is trying to contain the crisis with Israel. They noted, however, that Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s remarks, also in a TV appearance, were much tougher on Israel than Haig’s.
Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin expressed suspicion over U.S. intentions in an Israel Radio interview today. Rabin, who was visiting the U.S. when the Knesset adopted the Golan law, claimed Washington was trying to use that act as a pretext for deviating from the Camp David framework. He charged that the U.S. might now seek to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization into the peace negotiations.
RABIN SUSPICIOUS OF U.S. INTENTIONS
“I believe there are signs of such an intention on the part of the U.S.,” Rabin said. He cited statements by official American spokesmen about the need to expand the Camp David accords and U.S. encouragement of the Saudi Arabian peace plan. “All are signs of less interest in continuing the peace process on the basis of the Camp David accords,” Rabin said.
He added: “I’m not saying that it justifies what was initiated (the Golan annexation) or the way it was initiated … I would have opposed it mainly because it serves as an excuse for the U.S. government to depart from the Camp David accords.” According to Rabin, the test of American intentions would be the way it votes when the UN Security Council considers sanctions against Israel. “If America does not veto such a move, we shall be in quite a different ball game,” he said.
WATCHING EGYPT’S REACTION
Israel is also closely watching Egypt’s reaction to the latest events. Former Egyptian Premier Mustapha Khalil told Yediot Achronot in an interview published today that if Israel rescinds its Golan law, Egypt would make every effort to convince Syria to join in peace negotiations with Israel. Khalil, who heads Egypt’s ruling political party, is a deputy of President Hosni Mubarak although he holds no executive office in government.
He told the Yediot Achronot correspondent in Cairo that Egypt’s relatively moderate reaction to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights was aimed at preserving the peace process. “If we had reacted stronger we would have harmed the peace. It is our goal to turn this peace into a model and a precedent for any Arab state which would like to join,” Khalil said.
He dismissed Israeli fears that Egyptian policy would harden after Israel’s evacuation of Sinai is completed next April. “This is your famous sensitivity,” he said. “We too have developed a sensitivity which stems from your lack of confidence in us.” Khalil added: “I am ready to pledge, in the name of Egypt, if Israel abolishes the new law, Egypt will undertake upon herself to act toward negotiations between Israel and Syria.”