Prime Minister Menachem Begin said today he was "astonished" that the Washington Post inserted into an account of an interview with him last week remarks on the same subject by opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, and that as long as he is prime minister he will not grant another interview to the newspaper.
In a telephone call to this correspondent, Begin said the inclusion of Peres' remarks "may be a clever technique to indicate that The Washington Post prefers Peres or that he is your candidate."
The prime minister said, "I am deeply insulted and hurt to be interpolated with Peres, who wants to replace me as prime minister."
[Howard Simons, managing editor of The Washington Post, said that the Post felt it followed normal journalistic practice in the story on the interview.]
In an iterview held last Tuesday with Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., and Post editors, Begin invited Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Fahd to Jerusalem to address the Knesset (parliament) on the subject of peace in the Middle East. In an earlier interivew with Graham, Fahd had indicated a willingness to bring the Palestinians and other Arabs into peace negotiations under certain circumstances, including Israeli withdrawal from all of the territories it occupied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1967 war.
Begin said in the interview that Fahd's demands for Israeli withdrawal "are rejected and totally unacceptable. But he's invited. Perhaps he will convince me. Perhaps I will convince him."
Peres, who was interviewed by Graham on the afternoon of the Begin interview, addressed himself to the same subject. He said that he regarded Fahd's comments as a departure from the Saudis' traditional position, and recommended that Israel respond by saying it is prepared to negotiate with Saudi Arabia on the basis of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.
Four paragraphs in the 30-paragraph story dealt with Peres.
Begin said presenting Peres' remarks in a separate article on the same page or another page would have been proper, but that inserting the four paragraphs dealing with Peres' reaction into the same article "is just not done."
"I believe in freedom of the press, but if this is going to be done, as long as I am prime minister, The Washington Post may not interview me," Begin said in the 10-minute phone call.