Israel appeared today to be ready to accept in essence a joint U.S.-Israel draft statement on European participation in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai that was hammered out by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington last Friday.
This was the impression in political circles here after the Cabinet met this morning and decided to accept the essence of the draft statement as well as to seek certain changes in the statement.
According to political circles, Israel is prepared to accept in principle the statement that the Sinai peacekeeping force is to be established on the basis of the Camp David accords and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. The Europeans and other participants in the force will be expected to endorse this key assertion in some form in the context of their formal agreement to be part of the MFO. Precisely how they will work this out will be left to Haig and the Europeans, according to Israeli sources.
The four West European powers announced last Monday that they would join the MFO on the basis of the European Economic Community’s Venice declaration of June 1980 which calls for the association of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Middle East peace process. Israel was greatly disturbed by this element in the announcement.
Equally disturbing was the distinction drawn by the Europeans between Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, which they approve, and the rest of the Camp David process, of which they are critical. The 7 ?? hour meeting between Shamir and Haig last Friday dealt primarily with Israel’s objections to the participation of the Europeans on terms Israel considers to be a negation of the Camp David accords.
CABINET DECISION KEPT VAGUE
The Cabinet’s decision today on the joint U.S.-Israel statement was kept deliberately vague, publicly. Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor refused to say officially that the Ministers had accepted the joint draft statement in principle — barring the requested changes. “I am under instruction not to elaborate on that,” he said after the three-hour session chaired by Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich.
But it was understood that the Cabinet’s decision was taken in full accordance with recommendations from Premier Menachem Begin, conveyed to the Ministers during the meeting both by Shamir and Ehrlich and by Begin himself in a telephone call from Hadassah Hospital. The Premier is in the hospital recuperating from surgery on a hip joint which he broke last Thursday. Begin and Shamir conferred last night in the hospital on the text of the joint statement, and high officials spread the word later that Israel would indeed accept it in essence.
The official Cabinet communique today said the Ministers would reconvene once word is received from Washington on the U.S. response to the changes Israel is seeking. (In Washington, Haig said today he was still hopeful that Israel would accept European participation in the Sinai peacekeeping force, “but we are prepared to proceed with or without their participation.” An Israeli spokesman was quoted as saying the Cabinet was asking for changes in the U.S.-Israel joint statement to prevent an Israeli veto of the European peacekeeping role. Both Israel and Egypt can veto any member of the MFO under the terms which established the force.
(Haig said in an interview on NBC-TV that the declaration would state that European involvement in the Sinai force would not detract from the Camp David process. “These are not mutually exclusive problems,” he said. “One can … participate in this force within the intent and overall purposes of the Camp David accords and the protocol associated with the treaty of peace (between Israel and Egypt). And that’s, of course, what we would have to insist were done.”
(Haig indicated that he did not envision the European nations having to “take back” statements such as those giving support to the PLO. “The question is the intent and circumstances of their participation in the force, not their overall views of the peace process itself,” he said. He noted that a number of non-European nations have agreed to participate in the Sinai force. The U.S. will contribute more than half to the 2,500-member MFO. Other announced participants are Colombia, Fiji and Uruguay. Australia and New Zealand are also prepared to participate, but only if the Europeans do so.)
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