PARIS (May. 3)
Israeli Premier Golda Meir’s visit to Bucharest symbolizes 20 years of Israeli-Rumanian relations which have been almost consistently cordial. Since President Nicolae Ceausescu’s rise to power, these relations have been, moreover, based on a joint interest: that of small countries to remain independent and to follow a foreign policy which best serves their national interests in spite of their relative dependence on one of the big powers.
For both Israel and Rumania the turning point in their relations and in their open claim to independent national policies came in June, 1967. Israel followed its own policy in the Middle East while Rumania stood its ground in the face of Soviet pressure on what, for it, was a relatively unimportant issue-its relations with Israel. Unimportant as it was, it served as an excellent occasion to prove Rumania’s determination to conduct its own foreign policy even on issues on which it ran contrary to what the Kremlin defined as “common Socialist interests.”
Immediately after the end of the Six-Day War, the Soviet Union called a conference in Moscow of all Warsaw Pact countries to define a joint attitude towards the Middle East. Though Rumania was officially, as far as Soviet interpretations went, bound by its decisions to break off diplomatic relations with Israel and express its solidarity with the Arab states, it followed neither.
One year before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Moscow began to feel that its authority was slipping away and the Soviet ambassador called Ceausescu to task on at least a dozen occasions. Radio Moscow was even more explicit while the other Socialist countries openly threatened Rumania with “sanctions” should it fail to abide by the decision of the majority.
GREAT SUCCESS FOR ISRAELI DIPLOMACY
The Arab states also increased their pressure: Libya and Algeria formally protested; Iraq recalled its own envoy to Bucharest and declared the Rumanian ambassador as unwelcome in Baghdad. In this struggle, which for the Rumanians, according to their own diplomats abroad, was “all important” for their future self-determination, Bucharest stood its ground. It went even further: while no other Socialist country had diplomatic relations with Israel, it raised its own representation in Tel Aviv from the Legation to Embassy.
During this period, while Israel was practically boycotted by all East European countries, Rumania steadily increased its trade with Israel. Their commercial exchanges doubled between 1967 and 1968 and after this continued to increase each year. This continued relationship between the two countries does not mean, however, that Bucharest fully supports the Israeli government’s position in all fields. Thus, Rumania has obstinately called for Israel’s evacuation from the administered territories. This position has been official Rumanian policy since the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted in Nov. 1967.
Last summer, the Rumanian official press agency, Agrapress, summed up Bucharest’s stand on the Middle East as based on three points: 1) the need for an Israeli withdrawal from administered territories, 2) the necessity of reaching a political solution based on negotiations, and 3) ensuring the future through mutually accepted borders. There have been varying nuances on other issues as well. Thus, Rumania has refused to transfer its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and does not approve all aspects of Israeli administration of the territories or of the reunification of Jerusalem.
In spite of all these reserves, Mrs. Meir’s trip to Bucharest is a great success for Israeli diplomacy. And not only for the sake of a further improvement of Israeli-Rumanian ties. Few believe that Rumania will be able to successfully mediate between Israel and Egypt but many observers discern in the trip the start of a normalization of Israel’s relations with the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc. Both sides can only gain from such an improvement which would signify for both, and markedly for Israel, an even more independent foreign policy in the future.