After more than five hours of closed-door debate, the Israeli Cabinet today approved new Middle East peace treaty proposals sent here after an 11th-hour meeting between President Carter and Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The vote, which reportedly followed spirited arguments among the ministers over whether Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would now attempt to raise the price of peace, paved the way for the dramatic announcement in Washington that Carter will visit both Cairo and Jerusalem this week in hopes of pinning down the elusive peace agreement.
Begin, in an interview tonight on Radio Israel, said, "I believe that as a result of our discussions that have been completed just now, the [Carter] visit in Cairo and Jerusalem will advance the matter of peace and will bring near the chance of signing a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt."
Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, following the Cabinet session, declined to discuss details of the proposais, other than to say, "I'm sure it [the Cabinet decision] is going to contribute to the process of the negotiations."
The Cabinet convened, as it normally does when discussing sensitive issues, as a ministerial security committee, a device used to legally bar public disclosure of the deliberations by the ministers.
Begin reportedly was so concerned about a leak of details of the agreement that he asked Avraham Shamir, chairman of Begin's Likud faction, to postpone a Likud meeting that was to have been held to discuss the U.S. proposals.
The parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee also had planned a session to study the proposals, but was prevailed upon by Yadin to postpone it because of the possibility of leaks.
Yadin said the Cabinet decision was not unanimous, but he refused to sayhow many members dissented. It was learned however, that the vote was 9 to 3, with four abstentions.
The fact that Yadin and other government officials steadfastly refrained from the kind of pessimistic commentary that has marked the Carter-Begin discussions from the start, and instead put a cloak of secrecy around the proposals, suggested that Israel is pinning some hopes on the American president's last-ditch effort to rekindle the peace talks.
Late tonight, when word of Carter's visit reached parliament, several members demanded that the government make a statement.
As Yadin, who like all, Cabinet members is a member of parliament, approached the dais, the opposition Labor Party demanded that a debate be held on the developments. Yadin reportedly turned away from the rostrum, saying that a debate now would jeopardize the talks.