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Washington, Jewish Community Anxious on Eve of Begin’s Washington Visit

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An aura of nervous anticipation has descended upon Washington on the eve of Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s visit here this week. American Jewish leaders and Administration officials share apprehension over the outcome of discussions between Begin and President Carter. However, each group is approaching the meeting with a different set of expectations.

The Jewish community is anxiously seeking reassurances that, notwithstanding the installation of a controversial new government in Jerusalem, American-Israeli ties remain strong. American Jews will be looking for indications that the President intends to make good on his promise to more than 40 prominent Jewish leaders July 6 that he will not impose a settlement on Israel or otherwise pressure her to submit to American peace terms.

Meanwhile, in observance of a Presidential moratorium on statements on the conflict, State Department officials are maintaining silence. Their reticence, coming after an announcement just two weeks ago that “no territories are automatically excluded from the items to be negotiated” has contributed to the general atmosphere of uneasiness here.

When asked whether the Carter Administration has been “fair-minded” and “evenhanded” in its Mideast policy by criticizing only Israel and lauding Arab statements, spokesmen have routinely refused to respond. Nevertheless, Administration officials are attempting to allay fears that there has been a weakening of U.S. support for Israel.

Carter assured a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations July 6 that America’s commitment to Israel remains “unchanged” and reportedly went further than he had ever done before in outlining what he expected from the Arabs in return for Israeli territorial concessions.

The President offered a definition of peace, including the need for full diplomatic, cultural, and trade relations between the parties, which closely parallels the one which the Israelis have been insisting upon all along. Although the President’s comments were generally well received, some participants at the meeting have privately made it know that they intend to maintain “a wait and see” attitude.

BASIS FOR UNEASY FEELING

They remained troubled by the State Department announcement which so far has not been repudiated. Perceived by some as an ultimatum to Israel, the announcement drew heavy fire here, climaxed by a recent speech on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Jacob Javits (R-NY) which lashed out against Carter’s Mideast policy.

Critics also claim to have ample historic “evidence” upon which to base their skepticism. Since the beginning of the Carter Administration, they point out, a number of events have taken place which suggest a diminution, if not erosion, of American support of Israel.

Although the President recently authorized the sale of $115 million in weapons for Israel, Jewish leaders say he has failed to permit the Israelis to purchase a number of important weapons and even cancelled a deal for the sale of concussion bombs which has been approved by the Ford Administration.

Officials reaffirmed last week that Israel will not be permitted to sell Kfir fighter bombers equipped with American engines to Ecuador. Deliveries of the F-16 fighter planes to Israel have been held up without explanation. The Jewish leaders are also distressed over private statements by Carter to the effect that Arab governments desire peace while Israel is depicted as at best, less forthcoming, at worst, intransigent.

The President’s endorsement at the idea of a Palestinian “homeland” during his Clinton, Mass. speech last March has been a major bone of contention. However, there was some indication last week that the President may have modified his position. During a news conference he referred to a Palestinian “entity” which in his view “should not be independent” but “tied in with Jordan”.

However, Carter apparently still subscribes to the view that Israel must withdraw from all Arab territories except for “minor adjustments”. His frequent reiteration of this position in public has disturbed Jewish leaders who are concerned lest the President’s “public diplomacy” be “misinterpreted” by the Arabs as a signal that he is prepared to squeeze Israel to evacuate conquered Arab lands.

At a recent news conference, Carter said he was “looking forward with great anticipation” to the Begin visit. Carter has vowed to receive Begin “with a kind of friendship that has always been a characteristic of the American people’s attitude toward Israel.” He has gone to considerable lengths recently to reassure a wary American Jewish community that “the preservation of Israel as a free and independent nation” remains “an overwhelming consideration” and that “our deep and permanent commitment” to Israel “will not be abandoned”. The next few days will demonstrate whether these are more than mere platitudes.

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