WASHINGTON (Dec. 18)
The mood in Israel on the eve of the Geneva peace conference is one of deep skepticism about ultimate Arab aims, resignation to long, protracted negotiations fraught with dangers and pitfalls and determination to hold fast to positions of strength while bargaining for an acceptable settlement. This mood was reflected in statements by political and military leaders, platform positions taken by various political parties and the latest public opinion poll results released today. The skepticism in Israel derives from, and to some extent was responsible for, the last minute problems that forced postponement of the Geneva conference until Friday.
But Israel needed assurances on a variety of matters–particularly the United Nations role and she apparently got satisfactory answers from U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger during his whirlwind visit Sunday and Monday. Another obstacle was removed, at least temporarily today, when Damascus announced that it would boycott the Geneva talks. Israel has stated firmly that it would have no contacts with the Syrians until they complied with the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.
Public opinion, by a slight majority, favors Israel’s retention of the administered Arab territories as part of any peace settlement that might be reached in Geneva. A weekly poll conducted by the Israel Institute for Applied Social Sciences, attributed that view to 73 percent of the respondents. But 68 percent favored return of the territories to the Arabs on condition that they are demilitarized. According to the poll, 81 percent of Israelis believe their government should insist that a peace agreement with the Arabs includes formal diplomatic relations. Prof. Eliyahu Gutman, director of the Institute, said this reflected Israelis’s belief that the ultimate goal of the Arab countries is the destruction of Israel and that only by agreeing to diplomatic relations can they prove they have abandoned that goal. The poll reported that 78 percent of the respondents ranked commercial relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors second in importance. Fifty percent want United Nations guarantees to Israel and 35 percent called for Soviet guarantees.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said yesterday that he thought Israel should attend the Geneva peace conference “but not as if the devil was pushing us. We shouldn’t swoon at the sight of newspaper headlines reading ‘peace conference,'” he said. Addressing a closed meeting of the Labor Party’s Rafi faction, Dayan warned that the Geneva talks would pose a severe test of Israel’s courage and tenacity. “We have to go there armed with a correct view of things,” he said. Dayan said that Israel faced a different world and a different Arab world compared to what it was before the Yom Kippur War. But if the Arabs are stronger, it does not mean Israel is weaker. “They will find us strong,” he said, adding, “We may have to sit for some time yet on the other side of the Bitter Lake,” meaning the west bank of the Suez Canal.
A similar observation was made earlier in the week by the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. David Elazar. Speaking to military correspondents in Tel Aviv, he said the Israeli army will have to remain in “full strength and in a high state of alert” along the cease-fire lines for some time in the future. “We have to take into account an attempt on the part of the enemy to change the situation by force while the Geneva conference is in session,” he said.