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Which Way for Middle East Peace?

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Now that the General Assembly has given President Sadat another resolution to his liking and Mrs. Meir is back in Jerusalem with the shopping bag she carried for Phantoms apparently no fuller than when she arrived here two weeks ago, the political skies for Israel appear grayer than usual. When they will get lighter is uncertain but perhaps the silver lining is only temporarily concealed in the secret two hour talk she had with President Nixon.

Which way do the winds blow? First and foremost, as is well known since the Soviets arrived on the Egyptian scene, is the crucial matter of relations between Moscow and Washington. Without agreement between them, there can be no negotiated peace in the Middle East. After months of increasingly warm feelings looking toward detente, the atmosphere has turned cool from three Soviet vetoes of American efforts in the Security Council to halt the Indian-Pakistan fighting.

As the State Department has cautiously indicated, the Soviet role has recreated some of the atmosphere of suspicion and bitterness that must affect the Middle East and other factors in an ardently desired Moscow-Washington detente. Nevertheless, rather than cause a dangerous shift towards fighting in the Middle East, the spectre of an awful debacle on the Indian subcontinent may in fact be restraining the Soviets elsewhere.

Thus, Moscow possibly recognizes that Washington’s continued embargo on deliveries of Phantoms to Israel is contingent on the Kremlin keeping a tight rein on its availability of weapons to Egypt and its use of them. American concern with Soviet gains on the subcontinent may mean stronger American blocks to Soviet expansionism in the Middle East. Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird’s appeal to NATO to establish a naval force in the Eastern Mediterranean to supplement our Sixth Fleet is an indicator in that direction.

MURKY ELEMENTS IN MIDEAST WATERS

Murky elements in what may be developing include: improved Soviet allowances of Jews to go to Israel; the cry of anguish in Libya at the sight of Soviet armor killing Pakistani Moslems; the hunting by Palestinian guerrillas of Jordanian leaders; and the sight of Senators who have been opposing military credits to Israel now apparently supporting the idea or not fighting it, which may be a clue from them that they now see Israel as being of value after all to the US in world politics.

How Washington regards the Middle East situation in the realities of geopolitics and in the wake of Mrs. Meir’s visit is likely to become apparent soon. Egypt is expected to take its newly won resolution to the Security Council to pressure Israel into accepting the precondition of withdrawal. This may follow hard on Ambassador Jarring’s current initiative which again is regarded as certain of bogging down because Egypt insists on its own way.

Anything less than an American veto of any proposal brought to the Council or any other maneuver elsewhere that weakens Israel’s oft-stated position on negotiations without pre-conditions can only serve to darken the outlook for an agreed peace. An irresolute American position would be a blow to Israel but also a sign of weakness in Cairo and above all to the Soviet Union.

NOT CONQUEST, BUT PEACE

However, the State Department has declared twice publicly in recent days that the parties should enter negotiations regarding an “interim agreement” without conditions. This would indicate a step back from Secretary William P. Rogers’ Oct. 4 speech that led to suspicion he favored compromise on Egyptian troops crossing the Suez Canal and other matters. Regarding a full agreement, the Department’s position is essentially unchanged in that it rests on Security Council Resolution 242. Through all her intense activity in Washington and with the destiny of Israel in her 73-year-old hands, Mrs. Meir reflected calm, fairness and firmness.

Israel will not be “scared or bullied” she said of Sadat’s bellicosity. It is “inconceivable,” she also remarked, that President Nixon would make a deal with the Kremlin that would harm Israel. Again and again she set forth Israel’s aims–negotiation without preconditions; opposition to war which Israel would win but that Israel is anxious to avoid because it would mean death for both Israeli and Egyptian boys; “a fair chance” for Israel in negotiations with peace in the Middle East as its goal, not territory, not conquest, but peace. “Our one concern.” she emphasized, “is peace with our neighbors.” As she spoke, no fairminded observer would deny that “everybody’s grandmother” was pleading a just cause.

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