Behind the Headlines Israeli-american Differences

In Israel, the media and top officials appear unanimous in reporting President Ford has given what amounts to an ultimatum to Israel to agree within two weeks to Egypt’s terms for a second interim agreement. Premier Rabin is quoted by the Israeli State Radio that “there is no reason not to accept the American statement that if Israel rejected an interim settlement the U.S. would put forward a plan for an overall solution at Geneva without the coordination of Israel.”

But while Americans were receiving this information, Ford was telling newsmen interviewing him at the White House that no pressure, let alone an ultimatum, is being put on Israel. The Israeli-Egyptian agreement, furthermore, could take “a period of several months” and “could be longer.”

In addition, the President said he would “resist” imposing a settlement although “if we see no success in a step-by-step process we will have to then go to a broader comprehensive program which undoubtedly would lead to reconvening” the Geneva conference. He denied–”definitely not,” the President said–that he told the Israelis that if they were not forthcoming on an interim agreement they would lose American support at Geneva

Why, then, this gap both in substance and timing on what the President and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger were reported to have told Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz here last Friday and what the Israelis believe is the Ford-Kissinger position? And what would the U.S. actually do if Israel said in effect, “Sorry, Mr. President, we cannot accept the Egyptian demands?”

WASHINGTON TALKING TOUGH

Knowledgeable sources appear unanimous here that Washington is telling Israel in the toughest terms but behind closed doors that it wants Egypt to have its way because of American interests. Some suspect that if Egypt loses this round, the big defeat will really be the Cairo government which may have already told Washington that if it can’t make Israel capitulate then the road is open again for Egyptians to Moscow.

Nevertheless, the President and to a lesser extent, Kissinger, cannot ruffle American domestic feelings but must try to keep it calm and believing that big America would never seek to bulldoze tiny Israel.

Thus, while Israelis fear the U.S. may accept the prevailing view among Israel’s neighbors that Israel must return at least to its 1967 borders without political Arab concessions and recognition, Ford’s latest pronouncement is that the U.S. would not go to Geneva “supporting anything other than a comprehensive settlement that we felt was fair and equitable to all parties.”

Among unanswered, perhaps unanswerable questions at present are what would the Ford Administration do should Israel reject Egypt’s proposal? There is talk of the U.S. clamping down on Israel in fiscal and military support as well as in political backing in Geneva and the United Nations. But will it? Can the Ford Administration fly in the face of continuing overwhelming American support for Israel’s appeal to equity?

Pollster Louis Harris on June 25 at the National Press Club said 62 percent of Americans want Israel to have American arms and only 18 percent oppose it. He also said that “on handling the Middle East” the President “stands at 52 percent to 40 percent negative.”

SOME UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Can Kissinger retreat from his Atlanta remarks that there is no question that the U.S. will provide aid to Israel? What is uncertain is how much. Can the Administration overlook the possibility that bringing Israel into weakness may result in war that will benefit only the Soviet Union and probably bring political chaos to the oilrich countries? And finally, how far can Washington trust Cairo, anyway, on appeasement costs?

The warnings by the President and Kissinger about an Arab oil embargo and other forebodings of disaster are also seen here as widespread propaganda seeking to influence Israel into submission and at the same time show the Arab governments that Washington is pressuring Israel just as the “moderate” Arabs have been asking Washington to do.

Another question is why, if the U.S. government is so even-handed did Ford and Kissinger summon Dinitz for a discussion and not Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal? Presidential Press Secretary Ron Nessen observed that the talks will continue with others, too, but did not specify with whom.

As for the presentation to Congress of aid in the new fiscal year to the Near East countries that is now more than three months overdue, no official is saying when it will definitely come. The White House says the program is still “under review.”

Meanwhile, the President speaks generously of aid to Egypt. The U.S., he said in his latest public remarks, would contribute to the economic health of Egypt. This comment came after he was asked about a consortium of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan and West Germany plus America to raise $1.5 billion for Egypt in economic aid, with the U.S. contributing $325 million. That is what Congress appropriated for Israel-for the fiscal year that ended June 30 after the Administration had originally provided only $5? million while granting Egypt five times that amount. Congress allowed the Administration its plans for Egypt but upped Israel’s.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations saw the situation this way: “American friends of Israel have been concerned by a tendency in some circles to accept Arab statements of peaceful intent toward Israel at face value without requiring tangible demonstrations of peaceful co-existence. While Israel is being asked to take chances for peace by giving up strategic territories, the Arab states’ major contribution is a willingness to accept the return of territories.”

NEXT STORY