Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who has failed to persuade his ruling Likud coalition partners to accept Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir as the new defense minister, announced today that he temporarily will take the post himself.
Begin's Cabinet voted unanimously to authorize himself as defense minister at Monday's Knesset (parliament) meeting, replacing Ezer Weizman, who resigned in a policy dispute a week ago.
[Weizman said today he hoped his resignation would spur the Begin government to modify its policies and conclude an agreement on Palestinian autonomy with Egypt. He said in an interview on ABC television that he wanted to replace Begin as prime minister].
Despite a series of intense negotiating sessions with the National Religious Party and the Democratic Movement party, both of which are partners in the fragile Likud coalition, Begin has been unable to sell Shamir's appointment as defense chief or a reshuffle that would make Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai foreign minister. If either the National Religious Party or the Democratic Momevent left the government, it would collapse and Begin would be forced to call early elections.
Begin, who is expected to turn over most of the day-to-day control of the Defense Ministry to Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori, held the Foreign Ministry portfolio for about six months earlier this year following the resignation of Moshe Dayan.
The Cabinet has authorized Begin to formally express his appreciation in the Knesset to President Carter for pledging a U.S. veto of any attempt by European nations to amend U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 to include support of Palestinian self-determination. Begin will also spell out to the Cabinet Israel's position to the question of East Jerusalem.
Security Council Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories, but does not include the notion of Palestinian independence.
The Foreign Ministry announced today that Shamir on Tuesday will begin a week-long tour of several European nations to counter the European initiative for a change in the resolution. He will visit prime ministers and foreign ministers in the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.
Meanwhile, in Today's Cabinet meeting Begin and Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who had been seeking appintment as defense minister, engaged in a sharp exchange that Cabinet sources said reflected deepening divisions among the ministers.
When Begin accused Sharon of leaking to reporters a letter in which the agriculture minister demanded the defense post, Sharon reportedly shouted at the prime minister that he "may speak to Weizman like that, but if you do it to me, I'll repay you in kind."
Sharon is said to have warned Begin that Israel's defense position has been worsening because of a lack of direction, to which Begin angrily responded that Israel had a tradition of civilian control over the military establishment.
In another development, the military government in the occupied territories banned the distribution of two Arabic daily newspapers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because they are "incitement tools."
In identical orders handed to the editors of Al Fajr and El Shaab, which are published in East Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, in charge of internal affairs of the military government, said that as of midnight tonight both newspapers may be sold only in East Jerusalem.
Amar said the cancellation of a distribution permit issued in April was permissible under the 1945 British Mandate Emergency Security Act, which is still in effect in the occupied areas.
In a joint statement, Maamoun Said, chief editor of Al Fajr, and Akram Hania, editor of El Shaab, said, "This is a political order, because the two newspapers are antiautonomy. Forbidding their circulation is to stop the voices of antiautonomy Palestinians."
The editors demanded the establishment of a "free Palestinian state," and said, "Not any force can prevent us from raising our voice to achieve our goal." The editors appealed to the "free press of the world" to protest the circulation ban.