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Cabinet Votes 14 2 Against Accepting Carter’s Invitation to Begin to Attend Summit Confab Without Sa

February 28, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Cabinet decided by a 14-2 vote today that Premier Menachem Begin could not accept President Carter’s invitation to another summit conference at Camp David to be attended by himself, Begin and Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil but not President Anwar Sadat. Begin announced the decision to the media after a five-hour Cabinet meeting at which Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan reported on the ministerial level talks he had with Khalil and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance at Camp David last week.

Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman cast the two dissenting votes. Begin, looking solemn as he emerged from the Cabinet room, said that no progress had been made in the Camp David talks between Dayan, Khalil and Vance and that “On the contrary, a more extreme position was presented by the Egyptian delegation.” He refused to reveal details of the Egyptian position or to answer any of the barrage of questions that greeted his announcement.


Begin, however, prepared a detailed letter to Carter explaining the government’s decision which was delivered this afternoon to the State Department in Washington by Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron. (See P. 4 for Washington story.) The Premier was authorized to do so by the Cabinet and to meet bilaterally with Carter to discuss all of the outstanding issues that have blocked an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty Begin indicated that he also wants to discuss with Carter the full range of U.S.-Israeli relations and cooperation to promote security and stability in the Middle East.

The Premier disclosed that Israel had advanced new proposals at the Dayan-Khalil-Vance meetings which were rejected by Egypt. He said that “in addition to the previous proposals, which were unacceptable to Israel, new proposals were made (by-Egypt) which are inconsistent with the Camp David agreement of September 17, 1978, and in fact, nullify the meaning of the peace treaty between the two countries.”

He said that “Under these circumstances, the Cabinet decided that the Prime Minister was not in a position to participate in the proposed meeting with Dr. Khalil.” Begin added that he was prepared to go to the U.S. at any time “to discuss matters relating to the peace-making process, regional issues in the context of recent developments and questions concerning bilateral relationships between the U.S. and Israel” with Carter.

With today’s Cabinet decision, the Israeli-Egyptian peace process re-entered the stalemate phase from which it had emerged briefly when the ministerial talks began exactly one week ago. The prevailing view here is that the next move is ### to Egypt and that a prolonged stalemate in the peace process was inevitable under the circumstances.


Although the Cabinet’s action set a precedent–no invitation from an American President was ever rejected in the past–it was not entirely unexpected. The mood here is that a fresh summit without Sadat would be meaning less and degrading to Israel. Although Dayan stated on his return from Washington last night that he believed Khalil was qualified and authorized to negotiate an agreement, a majority of his colleagues apparently thought it would be anomalous for Begin to negotiate with an Egyptian official who would have to report back to higher political authority before any agreement could be sealed.

Such a situation was considered dangerous for Israel in view of the insistance by Sadat and other Egyptian officials that Egypt will make no further compromises on the crucial issues holding up a peace treaty. There was a widespread feeling that Carter had acted in haste when he announced Sunday that he would try to raise the Camp David talks to the heads-of-governments level without the participation of Sadat who had made it known that he would not attend.

Israeli leaders felt that such an asymmetrical summit conference would burden Israel with responsibility for failure if no agreement was achieved. It was acknowledged here that Israel will be blamed in any event for rejecting the invitation but the Cabinet apparently took that into consideration in making its decision today.


Reaction to the Cabinet’s action was divided. The Labor Alignment called an urgent meeting of its Knesset faction for later tonight. Meir Talmi, Secretary General of Mapam, expressed grave concern over the implications of the government’s decision which, he said, closed the door for future talks. Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres, who is in Paris, was quoted as saying–before the Cabinet decision was officially announced–that “peace is more important than a question of prestige.”

But the Israeli press generally supported the Cabinet. Maariv said Begin should go to Washington to meet Carter but should not attend a trilateral meeting without Sadat. Yediot Achronot said acceptance of the invitation would be degrading to Begin personally and to Israel’s position. The Gush Emunim and other die-hard opponents of the negotiations with Egypt were elated. Last night, several score Gush members demonstrated outside Begin’s home chanting “Begin do not go to Washington.” Police were summoned and about 20 demonstrators were detained.

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