U.s., Israel Hold 11th Hour Consultations on UN Peace Force

Israel and the United States were engaged in 11th hour consultations today to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the future of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Sinai. The mandate of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) which has been policing Sinai since 1973 will expire at midnight tonight (New York time) and the Soviet Union is expected to veto its extension.

Israel is standing firm on its decision Sunday not to accept a last minute U.S. -Soviet proposal to replace UNEF with an expanded United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO) force. UNTSO has been in the region since 1948. Israel contends that such a replacement would contravene the terms of the Camp David agreements. Israel’s Ambassador in Washington, Ephraim Evron, conveyed that position to the State Department Sunday night along with a request by his government for the U.S. to abandon the plan agreed to privately with the USSR. Evron told reporters that the Soviet-approved plan was “unacceptable” to Israel.

The U.S., however, has rejected Israel’s contention that the plan violates the Camp David accords. It maintains that UNTSO fills the requirement for the establishment of a “multi-national” force in Sinai promised by President Carter at Camp David in the event that the UNEF mandate was not renewed. The consultations, which began last night and continued today were being monitored here by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin. Premier Menachem Begin was kept informed of developments at his sickbed in Hadassah Hospital.

ISRAEL’S BASIC RESERVATIONS

UNTSO was created to monitor the truce lines and agreements between Israel and its neighbors after the 1948 war. Currently it consists of about 300 unarmed truce observers and would be expanded to 500 under the U.S. Soviet plan. UNEF is a 4000-man equipped force established in 1973 to supervise the disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt negotiated after the Yorn Kippur War. Behind Israel’s formalistic contention with respect to the Camp David accords lie two basic reservations toward the UNTSO idea:

UNTSO is subordinate to the UN Secretary General rather than the Security Council which created UNEF and has sole jurisdiction over it. Theoretically, it could be withdrawn by a Secretary General at a critical moment without the possibility of a veto by the U.S. in the Security Council. Israel’s position is colored by recollections of 1967 when the then Secretary General U Thant, acting on the demand of Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser, pulled UN peace-keeping forces out of Sharm el-Sheikh and Gaza, thereby setting the stage for the Six-Day War.

(In Washington today, State Department spokesman John Trattner was asked whether the current situation was similar to that in 1967. “We believe a decision to withdraw UNTSO is more unlikely to be taken without cause,” Trattner said.)

Israel is also presumably influenced by its deteriorating relations with the current UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, stemming from the situation in south Lebanon. Israel has accused the newest peacekeeping force, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), of laxity toward Palestinian terrorists based in south Lebanon. Relations with UNEF, on the other hand, have been uniformly good.

OPPOSED TO A FAIT ACCOMPLI

Israel’s second reservation is related to the way in which the U.S. appeared to present Jerusalem with a virtual fait accompli late last week after behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Soviets at the UN. Israel believes the idea that UNTSO replace UNEF was produced suddenly and that Israel was confronted with it with only a few days to spare before the UNEF mandate expires. The Israelis say the Egyptians felt the same way although Egypt reportedly has accepted the U.S.-Soviet proposal. Israeli sources deny American allegations that Israel had indicated it would accept the UNTSO plan in the course of unofficial diplomatic conversations.

NEXT STORY