Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin has told supporters that he will not change his diplomatic position on the West Bank despite growing political opposition within Israel and increasing apprehension being expressed by the Carter administration.
In a late night session Tuesday with members of his Likud Party and a speech in the Knesset yesterday, Begin declared that Israel is entitled to its own interpretation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the territory-for-peace bargain which has been the framework for Middle East diplomacy since 1967.
Israeli press reports from the closed intra-party meeting said Begin declared he would stick to his positon even if Israel has to stand alone.
In keeping with a promise to uneasy members of his cabinet last Sunday, Begin refrained from spelling out the details of his interpretation in public. However, it is well known that he maintains that Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from any of the West Bank, which has been under Israel occupation since the 1967 war.
Former Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, speaking for the Labor Party which held power for most of the 30 years since Israeli independence, attacked Begin's position on the issue in a Knesset speech as "peculiar and worrying."
Allon said the "hard-line positons" of the Begin government on the West Bank "bear grave dangers to Israel." He added that "the world will not agree with Israeli rule over 1,100,000 Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories."
Begin in turn attacked Allon, calling some of his proposals while in power "infantile" and "a farce." The Israeli prime minister also chastised the opposition for criticizing him just before his scheduled meetings next week in Washington with President Carter.
In another sign of political fragmentation, parliamentarians of the Democratic Movement for Change were reported to be demanding that the group quit Begin's ruling coalition over the prime minister's West Bank and Israeli settlements policies.
However, Washington Post special correspondent Yuval Elizur reported from Jerusalem that DMC members serving as government ministers said privately they will not take a position against Begin on the eve of his highly important Washington trip.
The internal dispute about West Bank withdrawal policy adds to the political turbulence about Israeli settlements in occupied Arab lands. Earlier this week, Begin quelled a battle in which some of his Cabinet members-including Defense Minister, Ezer Weizman - were reported to be on the verge of resignation.
Begin was quoted yesterday as telling Likud Party members that "cliques" have developed within his Cabinet and suggesting that a governmental shakeup is likely after he returns from Washington.
Carter Administration officials, who are closely monitoring the developments in Israel, continue to expect a major clash with Begin next week over the West Bank, which is among the fundamental elements in the seemingly stalled Egyptian-Israeli dialogue.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is insisting that Israel agree to the principle of withdrawal from the West Bank as part of an overall peace settlement. In Sadat's view, this and other elements of an agreed statement of principles would permit King Hussein of Jordan and perhaps other Arab leaders to join the peace talks and would allow Egypt to proceed further toward a Sinai agreement with Israel.
Israel has taken the position that it will not agree to the principle of withdrawal from the West Bank before Jordan joins the peace talks. And now Begin and some of his senior aides have been saying, publicly and through diplomatic channels, that Israel will not withdraw from the West Bank in any case.
According to U.S. officials, there is little or no possibility that Sadat will continue his peace initiative if Israel takes a hard stand against withdrawal from the West Bank.
Such a stand, especially if widely disputed within Israel, also wound be likely to have serious impact within the American Jewish community.
Hyman Bookbinder, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, said last May just after Begin's election that "an Israel position now that would actually rule out any withdrawal from the West Bank would lead to serious and anguished discussions" among American, Jews. Yesterday Bookbinder said those "serious and anguished discussions" have begun.