U.S. Issues Most Forceful Statement on Israeli Settlements

In the most forceful U.S. statement yet on the long festering settlements issue, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance called on Israel Friday to cease settlement activities and dismantle settlements in the Rafah salient of the Sinai bordering on the Gaza Strip, as Egypt is demanding.

Israel’s security, Vance declared, “can be taken care of within the framework” of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 and “with-drawal from occupied territories.” He tempered the statement with the view that the settlements problem is to be resolved by “the parties” in negotiations.

Vance was responding to numerous questions at his news conference on the settlements that began with one asking whether withdrawal from the occupied areas would “tamper with or decrease Israel’s security.” In keeping with the current U.S. policy, the Secretary did not mention “minor adjustments” on Israel’s borders that President Carter had recommended but which have never been made explicit by the United States.

The Vance statements came after Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, in an interview on ABC-TV with commentator Barbara Walters, declared that “we are abiding to every word that we have promised” to the U.S. leaders “and that’s it. We are not doing anything that we did not promise, and we are doing just what we have promised to the President.” He added, “if the Americans support the Arab objections” to the settlements, “then we just differ, we do not agree with it.”

MAJOR CAMPAIGN BY THE ADMINISTRATION

With a major campaign being waged by the Carter Administration among friends of Israel in Congress and the American Jewish community to help President Anwar Sadat of Egypt at this “crucial” time in Middle East negotiations, Vance was asked “What is it you would like” the Congressmen and American Jews to say to Premier Menachem Begin of Israel and “what can Israel do to contribute to peace–disband the settlements” in Sinai and other areas?

Vance replied that “we have been talking to various members of Congress and various individuals here in the United States to bring them up to date on what has been taking place with President Sadat so that they can understand the actual condition of the negotiations at this point and the obstacles and problems that remain in order to make continuing progress in the talks.” Vance then added that “as a result of the talks with Sadat he will persevere in the talks” and “the door to peace remains open.”

Vance noted he will meet Dayan Feb. 16 in Washington to discuss the Sadat visit and “the key points to be dealt with”–the settlements and the West Bank and Gaza Strip that are “interwined with the Palestine question. These two problems must be overcome if there is to be progress,” Vance said. For that reason, he observed, Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton will be returning in about two weeks to the Mideast to get the Egyptian Israeli political committee talks resumed. Sadat suspended the talks Jan. 18.

Asked specifically if the U.S. would like Israel to agree to close down the settlements in Sinai and the West Bank and where the U.S. stands on internationalization and a referendum on the West Bank’s future, Vance replied that regarding the Sinai settlements, “we believe all these are contrary to international law and therefore should not exist.” He added, “This, however, is a problem that has to be resolved by the parties. They have to negotiate it themselves.”

Regarding the West Bank, Vance referred to the U.S. call for a “homeland for Palestinians that should be linked to Jordan.” The possibility of an interim arrangement covering a period of years in which the parties would have a chance to work out details “in a West Bank-Gaza-Palestinian settlement,” he said, is a “formula” that “should receive most careful consideration of the parties.” The Secretary ruled out the suggestion of a Begin-Sadat-Carter summit “at this particular moment” as not necessary, but he said “we remain totally flexible.”

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