JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance headed back to the U.S. today after his one-week, six-nation swing through the Middle East. He left the clear impression here–and apparently also in the Arab states–that the months ahead will be a time of intensive diplomacy aimed at getting Middle East peace talks underway before the end of the year.
The American time-table is beginning to take shape. Vance came to the Middle East with invitations from President Carter to the heads of state in the region to visit him in Washington during March and April. Premier Yitzhak Rabin, or possibly his successor, is expected to go to the U.S. before the middle of March, to be followed by a succession of Arab leaders. The avowed purpose of these meetings with Carter is to expedite the negotiating process.
Vance spoke here of a “Geneva-type” conferences to convene next fall. Asked what he meant by “Geneva-type,” he replied, “You can call it what you want.” He appeared to be saying that what matters is the substance of talks, not their form. But observers here believe the Secretary’s choice of the phrase “Geneva-type” reflected his strategy for dealing with the single major obstacle in the way of Middle East peace talks–the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
If the meeting is a “Geneva type” gathering rather than a resumption of the Geneva conference that briefly convened in Dec. 1973, Israel may be more amenable to some form of PLO presence, the observers said. In Cairo over the weekend, Vance welcomed President Anwar Sadat’s latest remarks favoring a Jordan-PLO link-up before the Geneva talks are resumed as a possible means of bridging the gap between Israel and the Arab states over PLO participation.
Vance is believed to feel that since Israel has always insisted on a West Bank settlement within the framework of negotiations with Jordan, it could not object to Sadat’s proposal.
ISRAELI REACTION IS AMBIVALENT
Israeli reaction has been ambivalent. On one hand, the involvement of Jordan would appear to negate the Oct. 1974 Arab summit decision at Rabat which designated the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians. At the same time, however, the feeling here is that Vance seems to be ignoring Israel’s unqualified opposition to the establishment of a third state between itself and the Hashemite Kingdom.
Israel fears that such a state, even if linked somehow to Jordan, would be an irredentist force seeking to expand at the expense of both of its neighbors. Israel would like to see the Palestinian problem settled by the creation of a Jordanian-Palestinian state with which it would establish secure, recognized boundaries.
These differences could become a source of future friction between Israel and the U.S., sources here acknowledged. For the time being, however, Vance reiterated several times during his brief stay in Israel that as long as the PLO refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, it cannot be a partner to the peace-making process.
U.S. WILL HONOR POLITICAL COMMITMENTS
These matters were discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. Rabin stressed that relations with the U.S. remain firm and unchanged. He said Vance had given him to understand that the Carter Administration would honor all political commitments made to Israel by the Ford Administration.
The Premier played down Carter’s reversal last week of President Ford’s promise to supply Israel with concussion bombs. He said Israel should not regard that move as a test of relations between the two countries and stressed that continued understanding on the basic issues was the most important aspect of relations with Washington. American policy continues to regard a strong Israel as a precondition for any settlement, he said, and disclosed that in his talks with Vance he had mentioned the possibility of supplying Israel with an alternative to the concussion bombs.
Similarly, Rabin said U.S. opposition to the sale of Israel-made Kfir jet interceptors to Ecuador did not indicate a hardening of policy toward Israel. He said that and the refusal of concussion bombs reflected the new moral tone in American policy since the Carter Administration took office. Rabin said that Israel had made clear to Vance that it would not give up defensible borders. But at this stage, no maps were drawn.
Foreign Minister Yigal Allon told the Cabinet that Sadat’s proposed Jordan-Palestinian linkage was a new step in the right direction. On the other hand, he conceded that Sadat was still speaking in terms of a third state.
However, Allon noted that Israel is supported by the U.S. in its opposition to a third state. He said he learned from Vance’s visit that the American intention was to promote an understanding between Israel and the Arab states rather than impose a plan of its own, such as the Rogers Plan. Allon said that Vance promised that the U.S. would continue to maintain Israel’s military strength.