Defense Minister Ezer Weizman will fly to Cairo today in an effort to revive the joint Israeli-Egyptian military talks that were suspended in January, it was announced here yesterday.
Weizman's mission will represent the first high-level talks between Israel and Egypt in more than two months. He is to meet with Egyptian Defense Minister Mohammed Abdel Ghani Gamassy and may meet with President Anwar Sadat.
Announcement of Weizman's trip by Israeli Radio came shortly after the Israeli parliament, by a comfortable margin, endorsed Prime Minister Menachem Begin's Middle East policy in the first real test of his parliamentary strength since his trip to Washington last week.
While Begin won the vote, 64 to 32, with nine abstentions, there was a hint of future trouble in the fact that seven out of the nine abstentions were from Begin's chief coalition partner, the Democratic Movement for Change.
The Democratic Movement differs seriously with Begin on the question of territorial concessions on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
Weizman's trip to Cairo is a continuation of the peace efforts between Egypt and Israel that began in November with Sadat's surprise visit to Jerusalem.
This was followed by a second meeting between Sadat and Begin in Ismailia, Egypt, on Dec. 25 and by parallel military and political talks between the two countries' defense and foreign ministers in Jerusalem and Cairo.
These talks were broken off in January over differences in proposals for Israeli relinquishment of territory captured in the 1967 war.
Egypt's letter inviting Weizman to return to Cairo was received here today, the same day that Begin sent a letter to Sadat that reportedly urged a resumption of political talks.
It is understood here that the Egyptians expect new proposals and initiatives from Israel and there were consultations between Begin and his top ministers as to what Weizman would be authorized to say to the Egyptians.
The invitation to Weizman to return to Cairo is seen here as an attempt on the part of the Egyptians to keep the momentum of the Sadat peace initiative going despite Begin's uncompromising stand in Washington and despite the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
But it is not clear here whether Weizman will be allowed to offer anything dramatically new, or even enough to allow the Egyptians to renew the actual peace talks.
Although the opposition Labor Party had not introduced a motion of no confidence yesterday, the long debate in parliament on foreign policy was viewed as the first real contest between Begin and his foreign policy critics. Some parliamentary factions even recalled members who were traveling abroad so that they could participate.
Very little that was new came out of the debate, and in the end the argument came down to the question that Israel has been pondering for 11 years: whether to give up territory and how much for a chance at peace in the Middle East.
Opposition leader Shimon Peres said that the government lacked an understanding of the historic opportunity that Sadat's visit to Jerusalem had presented Israel. He said that a major obstacle to resuming peace negotiations would be cleared away if the government would announce that it accepted U.N. resolution 242 as calling for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza as well as from other occupied territories and that Israel was ready to make territorial concessions on all fronts.
The government pointed out that for 11 years Labor governments had announced such a policy but no Arab government had accepted it and the Arab demand - then as now - had been for total withdrawal to the 1967 lines.
Begin said that even now a declaration of principles with the Egyptians could be agreed upon if the Egyptians would give up their demand for total withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the creation of a Palestinian state.
In commenting about the continued differences with U.S. officials despite his recent trip to Washington, Begin said there had been three areas of agreement with President Carter. They were that there was a need for peace treaties and normalization between Israel adn its neighbours, that there should be no Palestinian state and that the Palestine Liberation Organization should not be part of any negotiations.
What Israel could not accept, however, Begin said, was President Carter's plan for a plebiscite on the West Bank and Gaza within five years. This, in Israel's view, would lead ultimately to a Palestinian state, Begin said.
Another area of disagreement with the United States was the contention that Jewish settlements in the occupied territories were illegal.
Begin stoutly supported the right of Jews to live in all of what was once the British mandate of Palestine and said that these settlements were "intertwined with the attainment of peace between ourselves and our neighbors."
"If we are confronted with demands that could harm the most vital interests of our people, we will not hesitate to say - even to the United States: 'We are unable to accept these demands,'" Begin told parliament.
In short, Begin stuck basically to the same line he took in Washington and he carried the day within his own parliament.
He said the only reason that the United States had changed its mind about supporting his peace plan was because the Egyptians rejected it. The Americans have claimed that Begin exaggerated U.S. acceptance of his peace plan in the first place.
Although Begin has obtained a comfortable majority for his policies in parliament, there appears to be a growing if nascent movement for greater concessions on the part of Israel. The 300 young reserve officers who so angered the government recently with their public appeal for flexibility have now obtained 10,000 signatures on their petition and they plan a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Veteran Labor Party parliamentarian Yitzhak Navon, 57, appears almost certain to become Israel's next president following his declaration yesterday that he will accept nomination.
If elected he will be the first president of Sephardic (Oriental Jewish) orgin and the first born in the country.
Navon's only serious rival, Elimelech Rimalt, who was supported by the Liberal wing of the ruling center-right Likud coalition, immediately withdrew from the race.
President Ephraim Katzir does not wish to serve another five-year term when his present one expires on May 29, and parliament must choose a successor before its Passover recess begins on April 6.