Israel's Cabinet approved the Camp David summit conference agreements yesterday, including the provision for dismantling Jewish settlements in the Sinai Peninsula, and thereby virtually ensured overwhelming approval by parliament this week of a bilateral peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
After an eight-hour closed-door meeting, the Cabinet voted 11-2 to agree to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's prerequisite that all 18 civilian settlements in the Sinai be removed in exchange for peace.
The opposition Labor Party also voted overwhelmingly yesterday to support the Camp David accords, and opposition leader Shimon Peres said afterward that the 30 Labor Party members of parliament would vote as a bloc.
The Labor Party's central committee voted 221-16 in favor of the peace accords, with four members abstaining. The committee criticized Begin's handling of the peace negotiations however, and said it would launch a campaign on behalf of the Jewish settlements.
Sources in parliament predicted last night that at least 100 of the 120 members would support the peace proposals when the issue comes to a vote after two days of an expected exhaustive debate. Balloting is expected Wednesday.
Commerce and Industry Minister Yigael Horowitz and Health Minister Eliezer Shostak voted against the Motion to approve the accords. Both belong to the traditionalist La'am faction of Prime Minister Menachem Begin's ruling Likud coalition.
Three members of the National Religious Party, also part of the Likud coalition, withheld their votes, saying they wanted to consult their party's central committee today to draft a position on the settlement issue. Begin said after the Cabinet meetings, however, that two of the ministers from the National Religious Party, which has been under intense pressure from the ultranationalist Gush Emunim organization on the issue of settlements in occupied Arab territories, indicated they would support the peace agreements.
Begin is scheduled to present a full report on the Camp David conference to parliament today and to inform members that the Sinai settlements questions and the two "frameworks for peace" signed at Camp David will be combined in a single motion.
By combining the tissues, Begin skirted a brewing controversy among members who, for political reasons, did not want their names associated with the abandonment of Jewish pioneer villages is the territories seized during the 1967 six-day war.
The resolution approved by the Cabinet for action by parliament states: "The Knesset (parliament) approves the Camp David agreements signed by the prime minister at the White House on Sept. 17, 1978. If, during the negotiations for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, all outstanding issues are completely agreed upon and the agreement is expressed in a written document, the Knesset authorizes the government, within the framework of this peace treaty during a period to be agreed by the parties, to withdraw the settlers from Sinai and to resettle them."
If parliament endorses the agreements Wednesday, as expected, negotiations with Egypt on the technical aspects of withdrawing Israeli troops from the Sinai and establishing normal commercial and diplomatic relations could begin almost immediately.
The speed of the peace process, which had been bogged down between Egypt and Israel since Sadat ordered his foreign minister, Mohammed Ibrahim Kamel, home from talks in Jerusalem last Jan. 18, has caught many Israelis by surprise as they attempt to absorb the enormous implications of peace with Egypt for the first time in the country's 30-year history.
Begin said that Israel and Egypt may exhchange ambassadors as early as next spring, assuming that a peace treaty can be signed by November or December.
Government sources said yesterday that candidates for the post of Israeli ambassador to Cairo are already being mentioned in Cabinet circles, with outgoing Israeli ambassador to the United States, Simcha Dinitz, and Eliahu Ben-Ellisar, director general of the prime minister's office, being the two most frequently mentioned.
In its communique last night, the Cabinet sidestepped the question of how long Israel is pledged to freeze Jewish civilian settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian and U.S. participants in the conference have interpreted the pledge to cover the full five-year transition period in which 1.1 million Palestinians on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will attain civil autonomy.
Before he left Washington, however, Begin repeatedly said the moratorium would cover only the three-month period allotted for Egyptians-Israeli negotiations on the peace treaty.
Since his return here, Begin has avoided comment on the settlement freeze issue, saying he would defer to the "better memory" of his two key negotiators, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman.
Aides to the prime minister yesterday called the issue a "tempest in a teapot," and predicted the matter would be quickly resolved as soon as parliament approves the removal of Jewish settlers from the Sinai.
The Cabinet vote yesterday came after militant supporters of the settlements demonstrated at Begin's home and at the homes of several Cabinet ministers.
"Now you throw us to the dogs," shouted demonstrators outside the prime minister's office."
Other protests in recent days have included members of Gush Emunim (Faith Bloc), who have tried unsuccessfully to establish new settlements in the occupied territories in defense of the peace agreements. They have been evicted by police and army troops.
The Gush Eminim have pledged to continue their symbolic protests. As a result, security measures in the West Bank and on the approaches to Jersualem have been increased.
One of the most conservative members of Begin's Cabinet, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, said yesterday he will visit Yamit - the largest Jewish settlement in the Sinai - to try to explain to the residents there why the Cabinet voted as it did.
Sharon, the Cabinet's most vocal supporter of the settlements, voted to accept Sadat's proviso for the dismantlement of the Jewish outposts.