PARIS (May. 19)
Likud’s upset victory in Israel’s Knesset elections elicited mixed reactions of surprise, misgivings and cautious optimism from French circles, a wait-and-see attitude in Britain and a gloomy prognostication on Middle East peace prospects from United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim who is in Geneva.
President Valery Giscard d’Estaing admitted that he was taken by surprise by the election results which no one here had foreseen. “Will this development endanger peace in the Middle East?” he asked rhetorically. His surprise was tinged with concern since Likud leader Menachem Beigin is an unknown quantity to most French leaders and has been depicted in some quarters as an uncompromising “hawk” with illusions of creating a “greater Israel.” Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, on the other hand, was regarded as flexible and capable of making progress toward peace.
But Beigin does have many personal friends here, especially in the centrist and Gaullist par- ties. Many of them telephoned congratulations yesterday to the Likud representative in Paris, Salomon Friederich. They seemed to believe that Likud, which has never been in power, does not bear the heavy burden of past Franco-Israeli quarrels and recriminations and can open a new chapter in relations between the two countries.
CONCERN AND HOPE
On the other hand, Foreign Ministry officials, while declining to make any public comment, privately expressed fear that a Likud-led Israeli government may draw the Middle East into another war.
But French officials seem to hope that Beigin will be forced to modify his positions when faced with the realities of the Middle East situation and the responsibility of governing Israel. They believe he will have to make concessions to American policy and adopt, albeit reluctantly, the same foreign policy course followed by the Labor-led government.
French Socialists were more optimistic than government circles. One of their spokesmen attributed Labor’s defeat in Israel to the general discontent of the population. “These elections only reflect the social tensions confronting Israel. More internal difficulties may be expected but we don’t think they will affect the prospects of a negotiated peace in the Middle East,” the spokesman said.
The French press and Western European newspapers generally expressed concern that the new Israeli government would take a hard line that would make negotiations with the Arabs difficult and with the Palestinians practically impossible.
DISMAL OUTLOOK BY WALDHEIM
No major Western world figure expressed a more dismal outlook than Waldheim who met in Geneva yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Asked by reporters to comment on the Israeli elections, Waldheim said he no longer expected the Geneva conference to be reconvened this year.
“Certainly, the new situation (in Israel) will not facilitate the negotiating process. Many of the talks which have taken place in the past will have to be renewed with the new authorities,” the UN Secretary General said. He said the negotiating process will be influenced by the developments in Israel. “I don’t think we can expect an early convening of the (Geneva) conference, maybe before the end of this year. But even this is questionable in light of the latest developments.”
Waldheim then warned, “If nothing happens this year–I do not mean a solution found–the situation will deteriorate dramatically and I would not exclude in such a case another military confrontation.” Waldheim said the Middle East was the major topic he discussed with Vance and Gromyko.
American officials in Geneva privately expressed astonishment over Waldheim’s comments and stressed that high level consultations between the U.S. and Middle Eastern leaders will continue unaffected by the Israeli election results. Nevertheless, Vance has postponed his second visit to the Middle East which had been scheduled for next month because it is expected to take some time before a new Israeli government is formed.
(There was no comment on the Israeli elections from any official quarters in Britain. Privately, the consensus seemed to be to wait and see what kind of government will be formed in Israel and what its policies will be.)
(Three major American newspapers–The New York Times, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor–expressed the view in editorials today that the outcome of Israel’s elections is a setback for peace prospects in the Middle East.)
(Meanwhile, Sen. Jacob Javits (R. NY) said the Likud victory might be a plus in the search for a Middle East peace settlement. He said a more hawkish government would be able to speak with “much more confidence in terms of working out some kind of deal” with the Arabs. Javits also suggested that a Likud-led government might be able to do more for solving Israel’s economic problems. “The internal Israeli economy needs urgently to be straightened out,” he said. “This represents a serious detraction from the strength of Israel.”)