TORONTO (Nov. 18)
Yitzhak Navon, Israel’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Education and Culture, said here Thursday night that the unity government, which he described as a “very unique creature,” is unanimous in its agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon without any conditions involving Lebanon or Syria.
Addressing more than 2,000 Jewish community leaders from the United States and Canada attending the 53rd General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, Navon declared, to thunderous applause, that the unity government agrees that “we want to pull out our forces from Lebanon, at the earliest possible time after securing the northern border of Israel; no intentions of changing the regime in Lebanon or making war or peace with Lebanon or demanding the pulling out of the Syrian government from Lebanon. We want to secure our borders, make sure that there will be no terrorist infiltrations from Lebanon into Israel and to pull out our forces and let our boys go back home.”
EGYPTIAN PROPAGANDA WORRIES ISRAEL
Navon said the government is also in agreement that Egypt’s attitude toward Israel must change. “We are concerned about the freezing of relations between Egypt and Israel. I have heard that a frozen peace is better than a hot war, but that’s not what we look for or aspire towards,” he said. What worries Israel, Navon said, is the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda in the Egyptian press.
“There are articles whose tone remind us of the notorious Der Sturmer, Pravda — that Israel is the cancer of the Middle East and should be removed, that Israelis are bloodthirsty, that it is part of the Jewish faith, that it is inherent in the Jewish faith. These are the things we were used to before the peace, but we thought that peace would put an end to it,” Navon said.
He observed that even if the Egyptian government will one day wish to move forward in unfreezing its relations with Israel, it will be difficult for it to do so after public opinion has been inflamed against Israel.
GOVERNMENT UNITED ON DEALING WITH ECONOMY
The unity government is also unanimous in trying to solve the burgeoning economic problems that are playing havoc with the nation’s essential human needs and equally essential military needs, Navon said. He noted that the unity government’s first order of business, after it was formed, was to cut $1 billion from its national budget, “ten percent across the board,” and that it plans to cut $500 million more.
Navon pointed out that Israel’s current national budget is $21 billion of which $10 billion are internal and external debts. Of the remaining $11 billion, $4.5 billion is earmarked for defense and the rest for all other needs. This, he said, has created a dilemma. “Do we want an economically strong and militarily weak nation or do we want a militarily strong and economically weak nation?” he asked. “You have to exist to survive because if you don’t exist, no economic program will help,” he said.
Navon said that in addition to pruning the budget, the unity government has also taken other steps to deal with the economic situation including reaching an agreement with Histadrut for a wage-price-tax freeze for three months and a six-month freeze on contracts for construction of schools, factories, buildings and housing. But this, he observed, has created another dilemma — the specter of increased unemployment and the awesome social consequences of rendering individuals obsolete and depriving them of social goals attached to gainful employment.
Navon said that the present disaster was the result of past subjective mismanagement, “not bad intentions,” but the end result of a political policy. The economy also is suffering because the war in Lebanon cost not only lives but in terms of the national budget it cost $2.5 billion. He also noted that peace with Egypt cost between $6 billion to $7 billion for the relocation of settlers and settlements from Sinai and building new camps and facilities for them.
DOOR OPEN FOR HUSSEIN
Navon pointed out, however, that while the unity government is in agreement on the issues of Lebanon, Egypt and the economicsituation, “there are topics on which we cannot agree — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian issue, and negotiations with Jordan.” But in spite of the disagreement about negotiations with Jordan, “we let it be known that if there would be an initiative by King Hussein, we will discuss that initiative and not close the door,” Navon said.
However, he said, “I don’t see any political breakthrough in the Middle East with Egypt or Jordan. Because of differences of opinion in the unity government on the ultimate solution with Jordan, the issue will remain unsettled.”
As for the West Bank settlements, Navon said “those that were agreed to by the previous (Likud) government will be established, but any new settlements require a majority. But to get a majority, it is necessary for one side to get a vote from the opposition. This may happen when the Messiah will come.”
Dealing with the elections in Israel last summer, Navon quipped that it was “a unique experience.” He said that Labor and Likud “couldn’t beat each other so they joined hands. I am very surprised that this unique creature is alive and functioning.” It is, Navon said to gales of laughter, “difficult for me to sit next to an opponent whom I fought in the elections, but the consolation is that it is also difficult for him to sit next to me.” He said that it took Moses 40 days to hand down the Covenant and only 42 days to form the present government of Israel.
TENSIONS IN ISRAEL HAVE ABATED
Navon said that a by-product of the unity government is that tensions between the political parties have abated, that tensions between the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities are disappearing “and we are learning to live together.”
Returning to the economic problems of Israel, Navon said that a number of factors are developing that will help provide the necessary relief and solutions to the situation. One is the “generous response for aid from the United States government.” Another is the creation of an Israel-United States free trade area “which will help heal Israel’s economy” by providing an export market.
A third factor, he added is the establishment of a joint economic development group from Israel and the United Staes to examine ways to grapple with Israel’s economic problems.
President Reagan announced on October 9 that he and Premier Shimon Peres have agreed to the establishment of a joint economic development group to cooperate toward the goal of “revitalizing the Israeli economy and putting it on the road to sustained recovery.” Peres and his senior economic aids met on October 31 with United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bond leaders in Jerusalem to lay the groundwork for a planned “gathering” of about 200 leading Jewish businessmen from all over the world to be held in the United States in December and January.
DIASPORA JEWS URGED TO ACT NOW
Navon emphasized the recent agreement reached between Peres and diaspora Jewish leaders for world Jewry to actively participate in Israel’s efforts to achieve economic independence. The Jewish leadership, Navon said, will explore ways and means to provide maximum financial resources to help Israel. He urged the Jewish community to waste no time and to spare no efforts in implementing plans to assure Israel’s economic independence.
“What is required is first, increase, increase the funds of the UJA (United Jewish Appeal) and Israel Bonds, increase the contributions and submit them quickly to Israel; two, increase the share of Israel in the UJA; and three, invest in industry in Israel,” Navon declared.