Likud hardliners suffered a major defeat in the Knesset today when they were unable to muster even a majority of their own bloc in support of an agenda motion opposing the government’s decision to thin out Israeli forces in Sinai as a unilateral gesture on the eve of the reopening of the Suez Canal. Eliezer Shostak, of Likud’s two-man “Independent Center” faction, the author of the motion, agreed not to force a vote when it became apparent that Likud’s Liberal Party and Free Center factions would not support him, Most government and opposition members joined forces to send the motion to the Knesset’s foreign affairs and security committee which, in this case, is tantamount to shelving it.
Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Yigal Allon delivered a spirited defense of the government’s decision which he described as a “calculated risk” that has been justified by favorable world reaction that bears out the government’s hopes and expectations. He said, at the same time, that Israel had “the right to expect that it would have full freedom of access for its cargoes (through the Suez Canal) as agreed to in the disengagement accords.” He said that Israel would also fight for the passage of Israeli-flag ships through the Egyptian waterway as a matter of right although this was not part of the disengagement agreements. He said he hoped Israel’s gesture would not be misinterpreted by Egypt and would not tempt Egypt into “taking steps which would force Israel to revoke its action.”
Shostak, whose only support came from the militant Herut wing of Likud, contended that the government’s decision was ill-conceived, ill-timed and unjustified. He claimed that the gesture was bound to be misinterpreted by Israel’s enemies as a sign of weakness and quoted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s remark in Salzburg that the government’s move showed that Israel was “learning the lessons of the 1973 war,” Shostak also claimed that the timing of the announcement made it appear to be a hasty and frightened reaction to the meeting between President Ford and Sadat in Salzburg.
ISRAEL WELCOMES SUEZ REOPENING
Allon replied that the government welcomed Egypt’s reopening of the Suez Canal and “sincerely wished” the Egyptian government success in this project. He said the reopening had been part of the disengagement understanding of January 1974 and that while it served Egypt’s interests primarily, the reopened canal and the rebuilding and repopulation of civilian centers along its banks was of very direct interest to Israel. He said there was a real difference between a desert confrontation line and a confrontation line close to a civilian area in which cities were being repopulated and large-scale economic enterprises were being started in them. For these reasons, Allon said, Israel saw the reopening of the canal as “an important constructive step.”
Most members of Likud’s Liberal Party absented themselves from the Knesset debate today. The opposition’s discomfiture was compounded by a withering attack from former Herut stalwart Binyamin Halevy, now an independent MK, who accused Herut of taking a negative “reflex action to any peace move by the government.” He urged other constituents of Likud not to be dragged along by Herut’s extremism. Halevy moved to have Shostak’s motion stricken from the agenda. He was supported by some Mapam and Labor Party “doves” but the majority voted to send the motion to committee, Leading Laborites who abstained were former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Yitzhak Navon, Moshe Carmel and Yitzhak Ben-Aharon.
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