Israel Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan said yesterday that if Egypt accepts five years of limited autonomy for West Rank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, Israel will "find a solution" to the issue of sovereignty in the occupied territories. Dayan's statements appeared to continue his recent movements steadily closer to the U.S. position in the Middle East peace negotiations.
The remarks, made in a closed meeting to senior staff members of the Foreign Ministry, reflected an even softer stand than the government took on Monday. Then the foreign minister told the parliament that Israel "would be prepared to discuss" West Bank and Gaza sovereignty for the Arabs after a five-year transition period.
Last month, in response to Carter administration questions concerning the future of the occupied territories, the Israeli Cabinet refused even to mention a permanent status for the West Bank and Gaza. The Cabinet said only that after five years Israel would review the self-rule proposal.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin's 26-point peace proposal would dismantle the Israel military government in the occupied territories and give Palestinian Arabs a measure of political self-expression. Israel would maintain a military presence in the areas for security purposes, however.
In yesterday's briefing, Dayan recalled that in Israel's answer to the American questions a month ago, "We said that we would be willing to discuss the nature of future relations but we did not agree to conclude the matter of sovereignty."
"This time, we are saying that we will find a solution to the question, if it is raised by any side." Dayan told his staff, according to a partial transcript of his remarks released last night by the Foreign Ministry.
Dayan's remarks contained several qualifications. The most significant is that Israel's offer to conclude the sovereignty question is predicated on Egypt's acceptance of the five-year limited self-rule plan. This proposal has already been rejected in a number of statements by Cairo officials.
Dayan also said, "There are all sorts of possible solutions to the question of sovereignty and there is no need to think of a single upcompromising solution from any direction."
In a cociliatory tone, Dayan said that he sees a "positive element" in the new Israel clause and he cited several "points of agreement" with the Egyptians during the foreign ministers' conference held last week at Leeds Castle in England.
"In light of these points of agreement we can now make proposals different from those included in our replies to the Americans a month ago," Dayan said.
Despite the slight softening in Israel's position, Dayan reiterated the government's position that withdrawal to the 1967 lines, including minor border adjustments and the introduction of Arab sovereignty, would be unacceptable to Israel even if Israel were compensated with special security araangements.
Dayan said this attitude was based on consideration of security, principle and practicalities. He cited minimal territorial boundaries as the security consideration and the need for freedom of movement and the exploitation of water resources as the practical considerations.
The principle behind Israel's refusal to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, Dayan said, "is that we do not desire to be considered foreigners in Judea and Samaria [the biblical names for the West Bank] and Gaza, which in fact means the departure of Israeli settlers, and the need for Israelis to obtain visas to enter these areas."
Meanwhile, special U.S. Ambassador Alfred Atherton is expected to arrive here today to prepare for another foreign ministers' conference.
Atherton, who will cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan after talks in Amman, is planning to spend two or three days in Israel. Then he will travel to Cairo in an attempt to persuade Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that Egypt should participate in a continuation of the peace conference begun in Britain.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials in Cairo have been quoted as saying Egypt would not attend new Middle East peace talks unless the Israeli government produces new ideas for breaking the stalemate in negotiations.
U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, according to an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, is due to arrive in the Middle East Aug. 5 in anticipation of the conference, which may be held at a U.S.-supervised early warning station in the Sinai desert buffer zone.
A series of hardline statement from Cairo in the last two days, however, has made it seem unlikely that the Secretary of State will begin his trip unless Atherton is successful in obtaining a commitment from Cairo.
The Israeli Foreign Minister spokesman said yesterday, "We are proceeding on the assumption that sometime in August new talks will be held in the Middle East."