NEW YORK (Mar. 21)
Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban expressed optimism today over the present situation in the Middle East which he described as “better than any alternative except peace.” Appearing on the CBS television program “Face the Nation,” Eban said he felt better now about Israel-U.S. relations (after meetings with administration leaders) than he had ten days ago because the two countries’ “mutual respect” has been “strengthened.” He praised President Nixon for having made an “enormous contribution” to the avoidance of war. Eban rejected charges that his government was intransigent on the issue of borders. “The word non-negotiable does not exist in our vocabulary,” he said. He also claimed that Israel’s position was bearing fruit. “Tenacity on interests” plus “flexibility on tactics” have resulted in an Egyptian “groping” toward peace with Israel that many thought impossible a year ago, the Israeli Foreign Minister said. He observed that “the Arab mind is in a state of flux.” Eban noted that historically Jews have been more idealistic than practical but said that Israel’s policy was “based on very pragmatic security ideas.” He referred specifically to the Sharm el-Sheikh strong point in southern Sinai where, he said, there must be an “effective and physical Israeli presence and control.” Eban rejected American emphasis on an international peace-keeping force instead of geographical security. He referred to the failure of such forces in the past, adding that for Israel, “it is a matter of memory.”
Ambassador George Bush, the new U.S. envoy to the United Nations, appearing on the NBC-TV program “Meet the Press,” asserted that a peace-keeping force could have “a very useful role” in the Mideast but that “we are not putting pressure on Israel.” Bush said that in his conversation yesterday with Eban, the Israeli Foreign Minister was neither “negative nor adamant” on border issues, He said “we have not gotten down to real discussions” on peace-keeping forces either in the Big Four meetings or elsewhere, pending an agreement on substantive issues between the parties. But Bush explained that the kind of peace-keeping force the U.S. envisioned was hardly the equivalent of the UN force that Secretary General U Thant withdrew from the region in May, 1967. He said the proposed new force would not be susceptible to “unilateral withdrawal without our having something to say about it” through America’s veto power in the Security Council. Bush said he was “reasonably optimistic” on Mideast peace prospects, adding, “We don’t view it as a crisis” or expect the Jarring talks to break down. He described UN mediator Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring as “a very useful, dedicated man and we support him.” Bush said that since taking over his UN post three weeks ago he saw no evidence of a dominant Soviet-Arab bloc whose position was reflected by Thant.
Eban’s television statements today reflected in substance what he apparently told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at a closed meeting here last week. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned that Eban told the Jewish leaders that while “the Arab movement from radicalism to realism was not yet completed, the Arabs have indicated a willingness to recognize Israel’s sovereignty.” He reportedly contrasted that development with the pre-cease-fire period of “political futility, military activity” and the growing threat of Palestinian terrorism. Eban said that Israel’s tenacity had helped bring about the change.” He said the present situation, in terms of pressure on Israel, was the “embarrassing consequence of success.” After a meeting with Secretary of State William P. Rogers for 100 minutes Friday, Eban told newsmen that no pressure had been applied on Israel. He said he had been given a “very full opportunity” to state Israel’s position and he did not want to “stress the differences of opinion.” “What is at stake is Israel’s security and Israel’s survival,” he said. “If there are differences of opinion on Israel’s security, respect should be given to Israel’s responsibilities and Israel’s views,” Eban said. He added, “Objectively, there’s no deadlock at all” between Israel the U.S. and the Arabs. At another point, Eban remarked that some elements of national security were so vital to Israel that “we will, it necessary, uphold and defend them alone.