JERUSALEM (Mar. 13)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin was back in Israel today after a generally successful visit to Washington. But the Middle East picture seems to have changed dramatically from what it was when he left on his journey a week ago and Rabin’s task now will be to adjust to the new situation while fighting a tough election campaign and trying to unite a sharply divided Labor Party.
The visit, which appeared to be going very well early last week, suddenly soured–at least from the viewpoint of many Israelis–when President Carter made it clear at a press conference Wednesday that the United States expected Israel to withdraw eventually to its 1967 borders, with only minor adjustments, as part of a final, overall peace settlement with its neighbors.
The extemporaneous comments by the President following six meetings with Rabin over the previous two days, caught the Israeli leader off balance. He was taken aback more by the timing than by the content of Carter’s remarks. In their private talks, Carter almost certainly explained his views in detail. But his public disclosure of them starkly silhouetted the differences between Israel and the U.S. on the question of Israel’s final borders.
There were of course, many favorable aspects to the President’s remarks, and Rabin, like a good diplomat, stressed them in his own public comments and in interviews with Israeli radio and television correspondents for broadcast at home. He emphasized that Carter’s definition of a final peace settlement coincided with Israel’s insistence on full peace, mutual recognition, open borders, free trade and tourist travel. He also played up Carter’s recognition that Israel needed defensible borders and that the 1967 lines fell short of that need.
END TO DIPLOMATIC STANDSTILL
But there is no denying that American diplomacy in the Mideast has taken on a new coloration. Leading newspapers and other experienced observers here say now that no matter how many “reassurances” may be forthcoming from Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Carter’s remarks signaled an end to the diplomatic standstill that has existed since the September,
Moreover, despite his own assurances that the U.S. seeks only to encourage, not impose, a settlement in the region, Carter’s remarks indicated that the role of “middleman” as construed by his Administration is far more active that the one played by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
Kissinger went out of his way to avoid spelling out America’s views or even its preferences with regard to the terms of a final peace settlement. Carter seems to have gone out of his way to make the American view explicit early in the game.
Rabin and the Labor Party will have to grapple with these changed circumstances in the election campaign. Labor’s campaign staff reportedly worked over the weekend to determine how best to present the party’s position on a peace settlement and territories to the voters in light of Carter’s clearly defined views and objectives.
Labor’s argument probably will be that whatever the differences between Rabin and Carter they are relatively minor compared to the glaring discord that will inevitably arise should Likud lead the next government.
SEVERAL FIRSTS FOR THE U.S.
Arriving home tonight, Rabin admitted to newsmen that “as an Israeli” he would have preferred Carter to propound “different definitions” regarding Israel’s eventual borders. But the Premier stressed that Carter was the first American President since 1967 to speak of peace in the terms that Israel suggests (full peace with trade, tourism and open borders).
Moreover, this was the first time, he said, that the U.S. had recognized the need for Israel to have defensible borders and had spoken of a distinction between the sovereign political borders and the defense line. This principle could be enormously important, Rabin said, in future peace talks.
He was “not happy” with “some detailed definitions” presented by Carter, Rabin said. He said he was sure after his visit that there was “no unclarity” in Washington regarding Israel’s own position opposing withdrawal to the 1967 line. The Carter proposals were a very far cry from the “Rogers plan.” Rabin insisted, because the Rogers plan had been predicated upon the two superpowers imposing a settlement. There was no such American intention today, he asserted.
Predictably, the opposition is already blasting Rabin for going to Washington at this time. It accuses him of having precipitated Carter’s public statement of how an ultimate settlement should shape up. But more objective sources say the Premier cannot be faulted for going to Washington since he had little choice. The Carter Administration invited all of the key Middle East leaders and Rabin could hardly have left the field exclusively to the Arabs. Nevertheless, as the newspaper Haaretz noted today, “A new situation has emerged which will have to be considered carefully, not only by the government but by the voters.