Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin proposed to President Carter yesterday that the United States seek to convene the Geneva conference by October or initiate other talks between Jewish States and its Arab neighbors.
Begin did not specify in a two-hour Cabinet Room meeting the extent to which Israel would be prepared to withdraw from occupied land in a final settlement. However, Israeli state television said Begin's plan involves "an extensive withdrawal" in the Sinai and some withdrawal on the Golan Heights but would continue Israeli control of the West Bank "both for historical and security reasons."
Carter, through the White House spokesman, welcomed Begin's proposals as "forward looking and worthy of consideration." However, there was no indication whether Carter believes the Arabs will accept them even as a basis for discussion.
After what he termed "very serious and important discussions" at the White House yesterday, Begin told reporters he will publicly discuss his hitherto-secret plan at a 3 p.m. press conference today.
He described his ideas as "a plan for the framework of the peacemaking process" rather than a specific proposal for the substance of a peace agreement. Begin is reported to be determined to give his thinking on the extent of potential Israeli withdrawals only to Carter personally and verbally, asking the President to keep the ideas secret in order to facilitate bargaining with the Arabs.
As described by Israeli, television and the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha'arez, Begin's proposals to Carter involve:
Reopening of a Geneva peace conference in mid-October as Israels first choice. After an opening meeting, the conference would break up into separate bilateral committees in which Israel could face Egypt, Syria and Jordan respectively as well as Lebanon if it wishes to participate.
There is no indication that Israel is yielding in its opposition to participation by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the main procedural hurdle to a new Geneva meeting.
If a Geneva meeting is impossible, U.S. initiated "joint committees" with the respective Arab countries or U.S.-mediated talks among the parities are a second choice.
Begin reportedly cited as a potential model in 1949 negotiations on Rhodes in which United Nations mediator Ralph Bunche, shuttling between hotel rooms in the early phases, negotiated separate armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors. The frontiers that Bunche negotiated lasted until Israel moved across them to occupy Arab-held lands in the 1967 war.
Quoting a memorandum which it said was presented to committees of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. Israeli television reported that Begin's plan says the Sinai peninsula "is a vast area and Israel is prepared for an extensive withdrawal." On the Syrian border "Israel will remain on the heights of the Golan but will be ready to withdraw from the present line," the report said.
The television report said the Dayan memorandum maintained that Israel must keep control of the occupied West Bank, which Begin has called "liberated" territory and "our land."
Some reports said Begin is suggesting semi-autonomous Arab civil administration on the West Bank, an idea long advocated by Dayan. However, Arab states in the past have rejected this as an element in a peace agreement.
Israeli officials in Washington would not confirm or deny the reports of Begin's plan that circulated yesterday.
Begin's ideas about the West Bank and a Palestinian homeland appear to be far from those set forth by Carter in public pronouncements so far this year and privately in the Cabinet Room meeting yesterday.
In recognition of the gap, Carter said in his welcoming remarks that "there may be differences of perspective and viewpoint" but that "the goal of finding a path to permanent peace will inevitably bind us together," Begin for his part declared. "We may have differences of opinion but we shall never disagree: we may only agree to differ."
Welcoming Begin in the hot sunshine of the South Lawn, Carter quoted a biblical passage from Isaiah that "the work of righteousness shall be peace" and gave a warm tribute to "a man of principle and independence." Begin responded at first in Hebrew with a blessing on America and the human race from "the land of Zion and Jerusalem." He continued in English and ended by promising traditional hospitality inherited from Abraham when Carter visits Israel.
Outside the White House about 250 Palestinian supporters protested the visit, in a 40-minute Pennsylvania Avenue demonstration sponsored by the Organization of Arab Students. Some of the students wore paper masks so they could not be recognized. Up the avenue, a pro-Israeli group of about 50 presented a contrasting view.
In a related development, the State Department confirmed yesterday that a former ambassador to the United Nations, William Scranton, had met recently with Basil Akl, an official of the PLO. Scranton conferred before and after a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Alfred L. Atherton, but spokesman John Trattner said Scranton was "not carrying messages" but acting as a private person.
In a press conference at the Arab Cultural Center, Haten Huseini, who said he was speaking for the PLO, called Begin's plan "a gimmick, a falacy" and said Palestinians have been denied their rights for 10 years under Israeli occupation.