WASHINGTON (May. 21)
Seventy-five Senators representing 45 states urged President Ford today to stand “firmly with Israel” in America’s best interests by helping keep Israel militarily strong and economically viable and supporting its search for peace in future negotiations.
The appeal, contained in a letter to the President as he was about to personally enter the Middle East political arena in meetings with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin next month, was linked to the expectation of Congress that it will receive “within the next several weeks” the President’s foreign aid requests for the coming fiscal year. “We trust,” the Senators wrote, “that your recommendations will be responsive to Israel’s urgent military and economic needs.”
The signatories–50 Democrats and 25 Republicans–included most of the Senate’s leaders of both parties. They comprised the largest number of Senators ever to sign a letter to the President or the Secretary of State on behalf of Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Special significance was attached to the fact that all 10 of the freshman Senators–including Dale Bumpers (D.Ark.) who defeated former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William Fulbright in last year’s primaries–joined in signing the letter. The signatories also included Sen, George McGovern (D.SD), who has been praised by the Palestine Liberation Organization as the highest U.S. official to meet with the PLO. They did not include, however, Sen. Charles Percy (R.Ill,) who did not meet with the PLO but has urged Israel to communicate with it.
CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL INTACT
The letter nevertheless was a definite sign that reports of an erosion of support for Israel in Congress were grossly exaggerated. The Senators urged Ford to “make it clear, as we do, that the United States, acting in its own national interests, stands firmly with Israel in the search for peace in future negotiations, and that this premise is the basis of the current reassessment of U.S. policy in the Middle East.”
They pointed out that while the suspension of the U.S. effort for a second stage Israel-Egyptian interim agreement is “regrettable, the history of the Arab-Israel conflict demonstrates that any Israeli withdrawal must be accompanied by meaningful steps toward peace by its Arab neighbors,”
The letter implicitly criticized the Administration’s refusal to enter into any new arms commitments to Israel pending the outcome of its reassessment when it noted that “withholding military equipment from Israel would be dangerous, discouraging accommodation by Israel’s neighbors and encouraging a resort to force.”
The Senators stressed that “a strong Israel constitutes a most reliable barrier to domination of the area by outside parties” and “given the recent heavy flow of Soviet weaponry to Arab states, it is imperative that we do not permit the military balance to shift against Israel.” The letter was originally sponsored by Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R.NY) and 18 co-sponsors–12 Democrats and seven Republicans, They will hold a news conference tomorrow to discuss their appeal to the President.
Previously, the largest number of Senators, to petition Administration officials on Israel’s behalf was in August, 1970 when 73 wrote to former Secretary of State William P. Rogers urging an end to the delay in sending Phantom jots to Israel during the Suez crisis that year, Last Dec, 9, 71 Senators wrote to Ford to support Israel’s opposition to the PLO after Yasir Arafat’s appearance at the United Nations.