Carter: May Be Facing Now the Best Opportunity for Middle East Peace

President Carter last night reaffirmed America’s friendship and security commitments for Israel and, invoking the Prophet Micah’s cry for peace, appealed to some 800 leaders of the World Jewish Congress gathered here from five continents for “both vision and realism” to help end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Without materially altering the peace formulas that have aroused concern and anger from Israel and its supporters, the President emphasized in an address, that “we may be facing now the best opportunity for a permanent Middle East peace settlement in our lifetime” and “we must not let it slip away.”

“This is not a time for intemperance or partisanship,” he said. “It is a time for strong and responsible leadership and a willingness to explore carefully, and perhaps for the first time, the intentions of others.”

Carter warned, “As difficult as peace through negotiations will be in the Middle East, the alternatives of stalemate and conflict is infinitely worse. It is time to use the mutual strength and the unique partnership between Israel and the United States–and the influence of you and others who have a deep interest and concern–to guarantee a strong and permanently secure Israel at peace with her neighbors, and able to contribute her tremendous resources toward the realization of human rights and a better and more peaceful life throughout the world.”

VARYING REACTIONS TO SPEECH

Interpretation and reaction varied widely among those interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency immediately following the address. Some were inclined to see the President’s main thrust as directed towards Senate Republican Minority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee, who had told the WJC the day before that the Carter Administration is playing “Russian roulette” with Israel.

Some Jewish communal leaders mainly thought it represented a challenge to them and saw only nuances of improvement in “trigger words” such as the West Bank settlements and “legitimate rights” of Palestinians that the President reiterated in his address. “This speech does not change the basic situation,” a well-placed Jewish leader observed. “If this was intended to change our attitude, it won’t have that effect.”

One highly respected observer saw the President trying to correct “the bad feeling that has been created” by his policy. In this connection, he noted the President’s emphasis on continued support of Israel and his “preference” against a Palestinian state. “However,” this observer added, “his use again of legitimate rights can create misconceptions in the Arab mind and thus present difficulties on the road to peace. On the other hand, the President’s use of milder phrasing about Israeli settlements by emphasizing ‘civilian’ and not calling them ‘obstacles to peace’ is an improvement.”

THREE KEY ISSUES

In his address, Carter listed the three key issues in Mideast diplomacy as: the establishment of effective security measures, coupled to Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and agreement on final, secure and recognized borders; the normalization of political, economic and cultural relations between Israel and the Arabs; and a resolution of the Palestinian problem.

Regarding the Palestinian problem, Carter spoke of the need to respect the “legitimate rights” of the Palestinians but reiterated an earlier announced position that “we ourselves do not prefer an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank.” The term, “legitimate rights,” aroused anger in Israel and in the American Jewish community when it was first used in the U.S.-Soviet joint declaration Oct. 1.

BEST OPPORTUNITY FOR PEACE

“We may be facing now the best opportunity for a permanent Middle East peace settlement in our lifetime,” Carter said. “We must not let it slip away. Well-meaning leaders in Israel, in the Arab nations, and indeed throughout the world are making an unprecedented and concerted effort to resolve deep-seated differences in the Middle East. This is not a time for intemperance or partisanship. It is a time for strong and responsible leadership and a willingness to explore carefully and thought-fully the intention of others.”

He asked Israel to dispel its distrust of the Arab states and not resign themselves to unending conflict in the Mideast. “With such an attitude of resignation, Israel would never have been created, and with such an attitude peace would never be achieved.”

Carter also stated that “much still needs to be done to remove the suspicions that exist in Israel about Arab intentions.” He noted, however, that the Arab states involved in the conflict with Israel “are increasingly willing to work towards peace treaties” and no longer “dispute Israel’s right to live within secure and recognized borders.”

The President added that the continuing refusal of the Palestine Liberation. Organization to recognize Israel’s right to exist provided Israel with tangible evidence that their worst fears about PLO policy might be justified.

While saying he would not “impose our will on any party.” and “we can make suggestions but we cannot do the negotiating,” the President continued to express his determination to persist for a settlement as a “mediator.” He said “negotiations will no doubt be prolonged and often difficult. But we are in this to stay. I will personally be prepared to use the influence of the United States to help the negotiations succeed.”

Carter received applause as he read the prepared statement, “We are proud to be Israel’s firm friend and closest partner–and we shall stand by Israel always.” More applause came when he added extemporaneously, “I speak not only for myself but all three branches of government” and that he also has “no doubt I speak accurately for the overwhelming majority of the American people now and forever.”

NEXT STORY