Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent a letter to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat yesterday saying that direct peace discussions between Israel and Egypt should be resumed.
The letter is seen here as an attempt to get the stalled peace talks moving again following Begin's failure last week to persuade the United States to go along with Israel's hardline stand on substantive issues.
The Begin letter, transmitted through U.S. diplomatic channels, is understood to call for a resumption of political and military talks, which were broken off in January. The Egyptians also were invited to submit their own peace plans and proposals, informed sources said.
Because of the deteriorating political atmosphere in the Middle East, however, there is little optimism here that Begin's letter will significantly move the stalled talks.
Begin disclosed the two-page letter to Sadat at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee of Israel's parliament yesterday and prompted an exchange among committee members that Israeli Radio described as "sharp."
Labor Party leader Shimon Peres attacked Begin's policies during the closed-door committee meeting, UPI reported.
"We can't go along with your program," Peres reportedly said. "It's a dangerous line and we'll fight it."
Begin reportedly replied that when labor was in power, "You tried to reach peace through territorial compromise and what did not achieve?"
Begin emphasized to the committee his contention that Israel should have the right to its own interpretation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in 1967 as the basis for a Middle East peace settlement.
The resolution calls for Israeli withdrawal from "territories" captured in the 1967 war but does not specify withdrawal from all territories. The Begin government, in a departure from the policy of the earlier Labor government, has refused to accept 242 as calling for Israeli withdrawal from the occuped West Bank.
Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, however, told a caucus of his Democratic Movement for Change, Begin's biggest coalition partner, that Israel was willing to negotiate withdrawal with all neighboring states and that the U.S. criticism of Begin's stand on 242 was groundless.
The real issue, Yadin said, was the question of holding a referendum among the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel opposes, and the fate of Israeli settlements in the Sinai desert.
According to Israeli Radio, Begin did not give a clear answer yesterday when asked about halting settlement activity while negotiations with the Arabs was in progress. He said only that he was against making such an announcement.
News services reported these developments:
Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), on a two-day visit to Israel, suggested that the United States and Israel establish a joint committee to discuss the differences tha have arisen between them. He said he expected Begin to visit Washington again in early May.
A public opinion poll published by the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz showed that 59.4 percent of Israelis questioned said they were satisfied with the performance of Begin. In December, 78.3 percent has expressed satisfaction and the figure dropped to 68.4 per cent in January.
Twenty demonstrators, headed by U.S. Rabbi Meir Kahane and most of them members of the Jewish Defense League, wore masks resembling Begin as they picketed the American embassy to protest U.S. policies in the Middle East. Six were allowed inside to talk with U.S. diplomats.