WASHINGTON (May. 24)
Under the steadily tightening Arab stranglehold on oil and Western finances that the industrialized democracies are unwilling or unable to halt, the Egyptian-Israeli-American talks getting underway in EI Arish and Beersheba appear to spell intensively difficult times ahead for Israel and additional embarrassment for the Carter Administration.
As she has always maintained, Israel’s government asserts that Jerusalem will never again be divided and Judaea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip will not become a Palestinian state. Egypt takes precisely the opposite position and holds out against “open borders” for another eight months in accordance to what Egypt claims is the timetable set down in the Camp David accords. Israel, however, contends that this violates the Camp David accords.
The Carter Administration, holding back on its concepts of West Back-Gaza autonomy, continues ambivalently with the three-way formula pronounced at Clinton, Mass. by President Carter more than two years ago — Israel’s withdrawal to its 1948 borders apart from “minor” changes, “true peace,” and a “homeland” for the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the Administration edges closer towards officially establishing East Jerusalem as “occupied” territory and “informal” talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
NEW HANDS IN STRATEGIC PLACES
Washington’s Mideast operational structure is shifting into new hands in strategic places. William Quandt, the White House strategist, is returning to Brookings Institution, with Robert Hunter, a National Security Council colleague with expertise in European affairs, succeeding him. Hunter reportedly has concepts similar to Quandt on a Middle East settlement.
In related developments on the eve of the Israeli Egyptian summit talks, Special Ambassador Alfred Atherton is going to a more limiting job as Ambassador in Cairo, replacing Hermann Eilts who is retiring to Boston University. Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs will not be on the negotiating scene.
As the talks begin, Ambassador Robert Strauss, the new U.S. chief Mideast negotiator, is in China carrying out trade functions. He will not be at the talks until the end of June but earlier than expected. Meanwhile, James Leonard, his deputy, hand-picked by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, will hold the U.S. reigns at the talks after Vance leaves following a ceremonial stay.
Leonard was with the United Nations Association before rejoining the U.S. Foreign Service as a top man with the U.S. delegation at the UN Do these shifts mean changes in U.S. policy, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked Zbigniew Brzezinski. “Not at all,” replied the National Security Council’s chairman. “Those who make the policy are remaining” — Brzezinski, Vance and above all, President Carter.
STATE DEPARTMENT MIFFED AT STRAUSS APPOINTMENT
The Strauss appointment is not pleasing the State Department and he is being hedged by Leonard and Counsellor Herbert Hansell, a close Vance associate. In a State Department news conference several days ago, Strauss absolved Leonard of suspected pro-Arab leanings. “I have heard that he was biased on one side and then the other,” Strauss said. “It’s about a draw; that’s what I heard.”
Strauss’ own role is uncertain. He publicly declared he would be “playing an active role, a dominant role, a controlling role very shortly in determining where our position is.” But Presidential news secretary Jody Powell immediately stressed to reporters that Strauss will operate within Vance’s control.
Emphasizing the Egyptian-Israeli-U.S. talks are “altogether a new process,” Strauss has observed that “Israel’s security, a comprehensive peace” and “full autonomy” are “terms agreed upon” by the three parties. “What is not agreed upon is what they mean, what are the definitions.”
A widely held supposition which is labeled “fact” by the rejectionist front Arabs is that the negotiations will not be “serious” since the U.S. Presidential election is in the offing. The Palestine Human Rights campaign was recently told in Washington by an American advocate of the Palestinians that at least one of the officials of the American consulate in East Jerusalem is telling West Bank Arabs who are disappointed by the Egyptian Israeli treaty that this situation will improve after Carter starts his second term and does not have another election campaign ahead of him.
Strauss, a former Democratic Party national chairman, does not think that the election ahead makes a great deal of difference. “I made an argument the other day to some sophisticated people that because it’s an election year, it’s the very best time to move.”