Behind the Headlines Fears and Hopes As Israel Awaits Security Council Debate

Jerusalem this week awaits with trepidation the Security Council debate on the Middle East, scheduled to begin next Monday. The main fear among top policy makers is that the Arab-initiated debate could result in even greater isolation of Israel, and even in a rift opening between Israel and the United States.

Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, now in Washington for talks with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, was instructed by the Cabinet Sunday to ascertain as precisely as possible what can be expected from the U.S. as the Security Council drama unfolds.

Paradoxically, the worst fear is that the Arabs will not be extremist, but moderate. Their moderation could tempt the U.S. into supporting a new Council resolution broadly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause–a resolution which would drive a wedge between Jerusalem and Washington.

Gone are the days when the Arabs could be counted on to prejudice, with bombast and extremist rhetoric, their own best interests. Now, under Soviet coaxing, the Arabs–even the Syrians–might well soften their hardline demands, and propose a moderate formulation on the Palestinian question which Washington would be hard put to veto.

MIGHT USE AMERICAN FORMULATIONS

They might well make use of formulations actually used by the U.S. itself in the past, such as the “interests of the Palestinian people” referred to in the joint communique issued June 1973 by President Nixon and Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and repeated at the Vladivostok summit between Brezhnev and President Ford last year.

A resolution in this vein would mean, in the present context, Israeli policy makers say, a call to reconvene Geneva with the PLO participating. After all, if the Palestinians are a people and have legitimate interests, then they have the right to attend the peace conference. And their representatives–recognized worldwide–are none other than the PLO.

Egypt is already thought to be canvassing a resolution in this vein. The Soviets would very probably support it, and Syria in the end might come around to it too. Then everything would depend on Washington. Israel could not accept such a resolution, top policy makers here explain, and would not participate at the Geneva conference if the PLO were invited.

SEEMING SHIFT ON PALESTINIAN-PLO ISSUE

In effect, what Israel is asking of Washington is that it protect a position (Israel’s) which it itself does not support and that it new proposals (on the Palestinian issue) which it might otherwise be inclined to accept. For Israel’s official stand on the Palestinian issue, even following the seeming shift this week with Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s “Nouvel Observateur” interview, is a very far cry indeed from the U.S. position.

Rabin insisted that the PLO would have to specifically abrogate its “Palestine Covenant”–a secular, democratic state–before it could be said to have meaningfully changed its ideology. The interview was certainly a tactical shift, undertaken, in most observers’ view, following intense pressure at home and from Washington.

For the first time, albeit as a “very, very hypothetical possibility,” the Premier considered the prospect of the PLO changing its ideology. He was not flatly and totally and eternally negative, as he had been in a recent “Newsweek” interview which was widely criticized as needlessly intransigent. But the U.S. has never supported the demand that the PLO abrogate the Covenant.

WASHINGTON’S PREFERENCE

The most Washington was prepared to accept–and this was enshrined in the September “memoranda of understanding” between Jerusalem and Washington–was that it would not talk with the PLO unless the PLO recognized Israel and accepted Resolutions 242 and 338. The formulation was chosen advisedly, and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was not prepared to commit his government to anything more. The American rationale is that, while opposing a third state and preferring a “Jordanian solution,” Washington sees the chance of such solution inexorably dimming.

If the PLO were to recognize Israel and accept the Resolutions 242 and 338–perhaps, this is not clear, by attending Geneva and thus doing so by implication only–then, the American argument runs, Israel would have to take the chance that political responsibility would moderate the terrorist movement and result in practice in its abandoning the ultimate aim of destroying Israel.

For Israel, say top policy makers, this is wholly unacceptable. A third state is seen here as a challenge to the very existence of the Jewish State.

ELEMENTS COMPOUNDING THE SITUATION

The situation is compounded, according to some observers here, by the fact that Israel’s present adamant stand on the Palestinian issue is not regarded entirely with credibility abroad. Foreign governments–and perhaps the U.S. government, too–might tend to believe, especially if they follow the Israeli press, that a further shift, a further softening, is likely as time goes on and pressures mount.

Foreign Minister Allon’s position is a mystery. He has not yet formulated it in Cabinet deliberations. Perhaps he will do so this month in the scheduled “political debate” before Rabin’s own official visit to Washington. Some observers here believe Allon’s views are considerably different from those of Rabin, and that the Foreign Minister has in effect already give up hope of a party “Jordanian solution” to the Palestinian question. Some say Allon would be prepared to countenance even a third state, linked in some way to Jordan and ruled by “moderates.”

Kissinger and his sides are doubtlessly fully aware of these “differences of nuance.” as they are euphemistically called, within the Israeli Cabinet, and they will be eager to assess them for themselves in their meetings this month with Allon and Rabin. Their conclusions may to a large degree dictate their stand at the Security Council and their willingness to take a position there contrary to Israel’s position on the Palestinians.

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