Spring 1978 Plane Sales
The announced aircraft sale quickly escalated into a major bone of contention between the United States and Israel. Israel’s objection was not so much over the sale of planes to Egypt but over the sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia, which Israel viewed as a threat to its security.
Although the Carter administration insisted that these planes would not be used against Israel and were to protect Saudi and U.S. interests in the increasingly destabilized Persian Gulf area, Israel and its supporters in the United States brought great pressure on the administration to cancel this sale. on February 24, Vance announced that the proposed sale of planes was a package plan, and it either was to be approved by the Senate as a whole, or the administration would withdraw the proposed sale.
The debate over the sale lasted into the spring, but on May 15, the Senate failed to disapprove the administration’s proposal to sell the planes to all three nations by a vote of 54-44. This led to a further strain in U.S.-Israel relations. Despite the administration’s efforts to reassure Israel that the package was not meant to adversely affect Israel’s security situation, Israel perceived this sale as another indication of the Carter administration’s tilt toward the Arabs and away from Israel.
Begin and Peace Now
During the early phases of the debate over the aircraft sales, the Begin government, to the consternation of both the United States and Egypt but in response to domestic pressures, announced a proposed plan for the creation of 31 new settlements in the territories. Begin also shocked the Carter administration by asserting that in his view UN Security Council Resolution 242 did not apply to the West Bank and therefore did not require Israeli withdrawal.
This interpretation of Resolution 242 had not been taken by any previous Israeli government and prompted Carter, on March 9, 1978, to state that if the Israeli government maintained such a position, it would constitute a very serious blow to the prospects of peace in the Middle East.The actions by Begin not only caused a great deal of concern in the United States and Egypt, but also an uproar in Israel.
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, while visiting the United States, reportedly told Begin that if construction of new settlements commenced, he would terminate his visit and resign his defense portfolio. on March 7, 1978, 350 reserve officers and soldiers sent a letter to Begin asking him to choose peace with the Arabs over territory. on April 1, the Peace Now movement staged a large rally in Tel Aviv in support of a more flexible negotiating position on the part of the Israeli government. A petition in support of the Peace Now movement was signed by 360 Israeli academics and intellectuals.