Begin rules the roost in Israel
The Golan law, the diatribe against the United States, the bombing raids on Baghdad and Beirut. . . . In Israel today Menachem Begin, one-time leader of the underground Irgun Zva'i Le'umi terror squad in pre-1948 Palestine, seems to work his will with impunity in the Israeli nation.
''No one in his Cabinet dares stand up to him,'' says an exasperated Israeli academic. ''They are scared. He got rid of Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman in his first term - much better, much stronger men than the current Cabinet. He is master of this country.''
When Mr. Begin briefed his Cabinet last Sunday on his scathing remarks to US Ambassador Samuel Lewis on US policy toward Israel, only three of 18 ministers voiced objections. And not even they would reveal their names to reporters.
The story had been the same one week earlier when Begin charged out of a three-week hospitalization and whisked his Golan law through a docile Cabinet. When the bill was presented to the Knesset, Labor Party leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were out of the country, and eight Laborites fell into line with the rest of the Knesset behind Mr. Begin.
Three days later, public opinion polls showed how and why the prime minister was able to get his way: They ran strongly in favor of Begin and the Golan law.
''The Israel government was not consulted in any substantive sense (on the Golan decision),'' complained Labor Party minister Abba Eban in the Dec. 22 Jerusalem Post. ''Mr. Begin took a personal decision to convert the peaceful, flourishing, untroubled Golan into a focus of regional and international tension , thus injuring the interests and hopes of Israeli settlers, and playing into the hands of our country's most implacable foes.''
But Labor Party leaders agree that, as one put it Dec. 22, ''The party is smashed, broken into four or five groups. There is no meaningful opposition.''
Combine the political vacuum with Mr. Begin's fierce Zionism, personal memories of persecution and genocide, and his view of biblical justification for Israel's actions - and Begin operates as he pleases.
The most distressing consequence, Labor strategist Meron Medzini told the Monitor, is that ''relations with the United States have now become the worst since 1956.''
Israel's participation in the 1956 Sinai campaign caused President Eisenhower to freeze relations and threaten sanctions: ''But the difference today,'' Mr. Medzini pointed out, ''is that Israel is far stronger and somewhat less dependent. And Begin, (Defense Minister Ariel) Sharon, and (Foreign Minister Yitzhak) Shamir are more willing to take chances'' than Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was.
The Israeli academic (who asked not to be identified) saw the gradual isolation of Israel and the mood of acquiescence to Begin's designs as factors that could contribute to ''creeping totalitarianism.'' Although that is perhaps too harsh a description of the political changes Israel is today experiencing, the choice of words does illustrate the distress Israeli liberals feel.
The next two weeks are critical ones for Israel. Mr. Begin has given no sign of complying with a UN resolution calling for Israel to rescind its Golan law.
On Jan. 5, the UN is scheduled to discuss sanctions against Israel. Israeli officials seem confident that the Reagan administration will not vote for sanctions, since among other consequences sanctions would block Israeli-Egyptian interchange, thereby imperiling the Camp David agreements. But neither Begin's supporters nor his opponents expect him to heed the UN resolution.
''I expect he (Begin) will lie low now and let America have a nice Christmas and New Year's,'' the academic predicted. ''I think he is counting on America to vote against sanctions. But he will not change the (Golan) decision.''
Several Israeli officials have privately brought up the possibility of Israel refusing to budge from Sinai Apr. 24 as a bargaining point with Washington. If the ''embattled Israel'' feeling persists here or if sanctions are threatened by the US, then, says the academic, ''It is always possible Mr. Begin will break all the dishes.''