WASHINGTON (Feb. 10)
A 12-member Senate group that toured the Middle East in November released a report here yesterday stating that “all parties expect the U.S. to take the lead in the Middle East” and that “note to put forward a plan (for peace) early in 1977 would be to ignore a chance for peace.”
The group, headed by Sens. Abraham Ribicoff (D.Conn.) and Howard H. Baker (R. Tenn.), now Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, said it found a readiness on the part of Egypt and Jordan to recognize Israel’s right to exist but not to establish formal diplomatic ties or open borders with the Jewish State. It found Israeli leaders unconvinced of Arab readiness to accept Israel but nevertheless hopeful that once negotiations started, progress would be made.
The 12 Senators visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Iran. They met with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin and other leaders. They stressed in their report that “the prospects for worsening economic situations in Egypt and Israel argue both for serious concessions in moving toward a peace settlement and for a strong American effort to take the lead.”
The report was released less than a week before Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance leaves for a one-week tour of the Middle East that will take him to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Senators, in their Mideast tour, did not go to Lebanon, Syria or Saudi Arabia and had no meeting with President Assad of Syria, one of the key confrontation countries. They did not meet any representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
ISRAEL’S POLICY OUTLINED
The report said “The predominant apprehension in Israel is a sense of insecurity and fear of continued hostility and attack from terrorists or from Israel’s neighbors. In the context of the World War II Holocaust and Israel’s involvement in four wars since then, insecurity is a fact of life,” the report said.
It stated that “Israeli officials repeat in different ways that Arab nations are not prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a nation. Terrorist attacks and statements that Israel should be destroyed contribute to an outlook skeptical of compromise and lowering of the guard.”
The Senators reported that Rabin told them that Israel’s policy was first to move toward peace through negotiations, and secondly, to strive for intermediate steps if a real peace cannot be achieved. According to the report, Rabin said “An impediment to beneficial negotiations is that no Arab country will deal directly with Israel.”
He said, with respect to the Palestinian issue, that reconciliation was necessary for peace, but that no third country could be established between Israel and Jordan, that not all occupied territories would be returned and “Jerusalem will never revert to Arab control.” Rabin defended Israeli settlements in occupied territory as “indispensable” to “Israel’s strategic system.” He said the settlements were confined to deserts and strategic belts.
Rabin noted that the Arab concept was total withdrawal from the territories without a prior settlement, agreement or reconciliation, the Senators reported. The Premier also held that the “key to the practical implications” of a peace settlement was open boundaries allowing free movement of people and goods between Israel and its neighbors.
ARAB VIEWS PRESENTED
In contrast, the Senators reported, Sadat saw open borders as “not practical and not essential” to a settlement. However, they emphasized that “perhaps the most important factor” in discussion with the Egyptian leadership “is that for the first time Arab leaders are willing to recognize the right of Israel to exist as an independent and secure Jewish State.” But Sadat, they added, insisted that “normal diplomatic relations or joint ventures with Israel would require more time and could be done in future years.”
The Senators said they were told by Hussein that “Jordan is eager to reclaim the territory it lost in 1967” and “if peace is approached in terms of the return of territory along the lines of (UN) Resolutions 242 and 338 with the political recognition of Israel, there would be no limit to what could be agreed.” According to the report, Hussein said that if Jordan recovered the West Bank it would place the area under international auspices and hold a referendum. “He saw the future leadership of the PLO as an open question,” the report said.
The report took into account Israel’s worsening economic situation and the food riots in Egypt subsequent to the group’s visit. It noted that as a result, Sadat’s “room to maneuver has been restricted.” The report warned that “The continuation of a no-war-no-peace situation prevents Israel, Egypt and other countries from concentrating attention and resources on their economies.”