Prime Minister Menachem Begin today submitted to a Cabinet committee his own vision of what autonomy will mean for the 1.1 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Begin did not disclose the contents of his plan, saying it can be amended by other ministers before negotiations start on West Bank and Gaza autonomy. But Cabinet sources said it closely resembles the 26-point limited self-rule plan presented by Israel to President Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in December 1977.
The plan limits self-rule to administrative-not legislative - functions and asserts that an Arab "self-governing administrative council" in the occupied territories would derive its authority solely from the Israel government. Implicit in that assertion is the message that the administrative council could be dissolved by Israel if it failed to adhere to the principles laid down in its charter.
Begin's plan, which will be the basis for Israel's negotiating position when autonomy talks start later this month, apparently reflects the extreme bargaining posture along expected by American and Egyptian diplomats. For its parts, Egypt is expected to insist that Palestinian demands for self-determination be fulfilled to the opposite extreme.
The broad gap, while it could be narrowed in negotiations, underscores the difficulties that lie ahead in U.S.-sponsored autonomy talks set up under the Camp David accords that led to the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty of March 26.
Israel's position is based on the premise that it will never accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, while Egypt's position envisages the right to statehood. Others designated in the accords to participate in the talks, Jordan and the Palestinians, have refused even to take part.
Under Begin's proposal, an 11-member administrative council elected by residents of the West Bank and Gaza would operate social and educational services. Security and public order in the territories would remain the responsibility of the Israeli Army.
The Israeli occupation army would withdraw from its headquarters in the centers of major towns to new emplacements, presumably in strategic rural positions and in the vicinity of Jewish civilian settlements. But the military administration would remain as an overseer of Palestinian autonomy.
That position appeared to be at odds with the Camp David accords, which say, "the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected."
Israel would retain the right to acquire land and build new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and would control more than a million acres of "state land" in the West Bank that was Jordanian public property before Israel conquered the territory in the 1967 six-day war.
Moreover, Israel would control the exploitation of underground water resources in the territories and Israeli law would prevail in the settled areas, resulting, in effect, in Jewish autonomy within enclaves of an autonomous Palestinian region.
Israel also makes clear in Begin's plan its claim to sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, an issue which under the peace treaty is left open for five years.
Begin presented his plan to the Cabinet "Committee of 11," an advisory unit that will establish negotiations policy to be carried out by Israel's six-member negotiating team headed by Interior Minister Yosef Burg.
Autonomy plans also have been drafted by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and Transport Minister Haim Landau, points of which may be incorporated in the final draft of Israel's bargaining position.
A secret proposal also has been drafted by the National Religious Party, the pivotal part of Begin's Lukud coalition. The three ministers of the party, of which Burg is the titular head, are bound by the party's autonomy principles. These are said to include Israeli control of West Bank water and application of Israeli law in existing and new Jewish civilian settlements in the occupied territories.
[Egypt rejected the Israeli autonomy plan and said the proposal would obstruct peace efforts in the Middle East, Reuter reported from Cairo.]
A Foreign Ministry statement said the plan outlined by Begin "violates agreements reached at Camp David," adding: "All documents signed by Egypt and the U.S. call for a full autonomy for the Palestinians, termination of the Israeli military rule and the withdrawal of the Israeli troops to new specific locations."
Israel's opposition Labor alignment also issued a statement criticizing the Begin plan, saying it is aimed at retaining full control of the West Bank and that it will obstruct negotiations and lead to rebellion in the occupied territories.
The government immediately responded with a blast at the Labor Party, calling the statement "the most serious example of national irresponsibility" and saying that no negotiating position has yet been formally adopted.
"All this shows is that the Labor alignment cannot accept the fact that it has been transferre into the opposition and that [the government] has signed a peace treaty," a government statement said.