Israel embarked today on a week of diplomatic “clarifications” and political soul-searching that will climax next Sunday in a fateful Cabinet decision on whether to reject or accept Egypt’s interim settlement terms. Weighing heavily on the minds of Israeli policy-makers is the support and endorsement of the Egyptian position which the U.S. Administration voiced, in clear and unequivocal terms, in Ambassador Simcha Dinitz’s meetings with President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A, Kissinger last weekend.
The “clarifications” will take place on the Jerusalem-Washington and the Jerusalem-Cairo axes. The government feels it still lacks detailed knowledge of the Egyptian stance on the crucial issue of the Sinai passes and lacks knowledge, too of what American policy on the Middle East is likely to be if Israel does eventually accept the settlement terms and contracts a new three-year interim accord.
Will the U.S. refrain from pressure on Israel to make further settlements during those three years? Will it refrain from advancing its own overall peace plan without prior coordination with Israel? These key questions, according to top sources here, have still not been answered with sufficient clarity.
HERUT OPPOSES U.S. TERMS
Meanwhile, the Herut Central Committee unanimously adopted a resolution last night urging the government to reject the U.S.-backed Egyptian terms. After listening to Herut leader Menachem Beigin’s report of his meeting with Premier Yitzhak Rabin, the committee took the position that if Israel gave up the Mitle and Gidi Passes and the Abu Rodeis oilfields, it would invite the gravest dangers, since Egypt refuses to abandon its state of belligerency. The resolution called on all friendly elements in the U.S. to back Israel’s attitude.
Addressing the Central Committee’s meeting in Tel Aviv, Beigin said American pressure was unfair. He said that by fully backing Egypt’s position, Washington has forfeited its right to offer its good offices as a mediator in the dispute. Beigin contended that the American promise to compensate Israel for the oil it will lose by relinquishing the Abu Rodeis fields would place Israel completely in U.S. hands and would in fact provide the U.S. with a new tool for further pressure on Israel.
A public committee has been established to oppose withdrawal from Abu Rodeis. Headed by geologist Moshe Shafrir, it has called on the public to flood the Prime Minister’s Office with letters and telegrams protesting such a move.
Dinitz, who has been summoned home to take part in the final decision-making, has been instructed to seek “clarifications” on the points troubling the government. Possibly, he will see President Ford again before returning home towards the end of the week. His task is complicated by the logistics problem of Kissinger’s vacation: the Secretary and Mrs, Kissinger are holidaying in the Virgin Islands and have left Joseph J. Sisco, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, to “mind the shop” for ten days.
CAIRO’S DEMANDS STILL UNCLEAR
On the more immediate issues of a settlement, Israel is still unclear on Cairo’s specific territorial demands. The Egyptian response to Israel’s proposals was vague, according to sources here. It contained no maps perhaps a deliberate attempt to leave “the door ajar,” in the view of some observers). In the main, Egypt’s response was a negative reaction to Israel’s proposals, these sources said. The government here still wants precise information on what Egypt itself proposes before it takes its final decision.
Other points still needing elaboration include the question of the width of the coastal strip to Abu Rodeis which Israel has offered, the question of electronic warning devices in and near the passes, and the issue of economic and political warfare on which Israel is seeking meaningful Egyptian moderation.
One minister said privately he set little store by the “clarification” process. The gut issues were clear enough, he said, and the Cabinet members knew broadly the choice before them. Personally, this minister said, he thought the Premier had heavily committed himself to retaining Israeli control of the eastern part of the passes and would be hard put now to drop that insistence unless some drastic change occurred in Egypt’s stance, which did not seem likely.
Another minister was slightly more sanguine. He said the chances of an accord were still 50-50 and that the “clarifications” were meaningful and necessary. If they indicated that Egypt was prepared for some continued Israeli presence in the passes area, then possibly Israel would be able to reexamine its demand for control of half the passes.
This minister’s view was shared by the two Mapam Cabinet members, probably by the two Independent Liberal Party men and also by some Laborites. The key question, however, was whether the Premier himself shared it. Political pundits writing in today’s press expressed the belief, purportedly based on Rabin’s conversations with friends, that the Premier would not climb down even if the Cabinet majority lined up against him. According to one top political writer, Shlomo Nakdimon of Yediot Achronot, Rabin has resolved to resign rather than knuckle under to the American-Egyptian pressure.
‘DOVES’ ORGANIZING EFFORT
The “doves,” meanwhile, were organizing a concerted effort today to sway the Israel decision towards their view, Leading Laborite “doves” reportedly asked Rabin to convene a special ad hoc forum, comprising Labor’s Cabinet ministers and members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, to formulate the party’s stand. They recalled that Golda Meir had summoned the same forum in August 1970 when it had been resolved to accept the American peace initiative,
The “doves” were reportedly pressing former Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir to postpone his scheduled trip to South America–he is due to leave at the week’s end–so that the party “strongman” is on hand to throw his weight behind the doveish campaign.
Much will probably depend on the role played by Foreign Minister Yigal Allon who has to date reserved his opinion. Some observers said his report to the Cabinet Sunday was distinctly different in tenor from that of the Premier, with broad hints that he (Allon) would favor further concessions on the passes without relinquishing them completely.
But even if they can push their will through the Cabinet, the “doves” will find it hard to muster a Knesset majority since the Labor “hawks” mainly of ex-Rafi, are also showing signs of ferment and uttering veiled threats that they would rebel rather than sanction a surrender to American dictates.
DENIES ULTIMATUM BY FORD
(In Washington, White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen denied today reports that Ford had delivered an ultimatum to Dinitz during their meeting last Friday. He declined, however, to say what Ford and Dinitz discussed, noting that it would not help anyone for him to go into a detailed accounting of what had been discussed. Nessen added; “I would not accept any characterization of the President putting pressure on anyone.” He said that Ford had some ideas about how the Mideast deadlock should be broken but he was not ready to announce any steps being drawn up in his current reassessment of Mideast policy.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.