Behind the Headlines Time for Coalition-making

President Reagan’s timetable for Middle East peacemaking allows ample time for Israeli coalition-making, and Premier Menachem Begin will not therefore be under foreign policy pressures in the weeks a-head as he goes about the task of setting up a government.

The U.S. President invited Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to meet him in Washington in August, and Israel’s Prime Minister – whomever he may be — to follow early in September. Until September, therefore, no significant diplomatic movement is expected, according to a high source close to Begin.

The pre-planned hiatus, the source added, will effectively freeze any notion that Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington might have of reviving the European Middle East initiative at this time.

WAITING FOR SUMMIT MEETINGS

Carrington took over last week as chairman of the European Economic Community’s (EEC) Council of Ministers for the next six months. He is one of the most ardent and energetic advocates of the European initiative in the Mideast. But he can scarcely attempt to move ahead with it before a new government has been formally established in Israel or before Reagan meets with the two main Mideast protagonists.

Begin took the opportunity last week following the elections to lash out at the European initiative which he said Israel “utterly rejects.” He asserted that Carrington would be “wasting his time” to try and promote the initiative. The initiative is based on the EEC’s Venice declaration of June, 1980 which called for the Palestine Liberation Organization to be “associated with” the Mideast peace process.

The summer hiatus will also apply to the long-dormant autonomy talks with Egypt and the U.S. “Israel did not break off the talks,” the high source close to Begin recalled, “and it’s not our duty to initiate their resumption.” But in practice, he was certain, neither the U.S. nor Egypt would propose the resumption of the talks before the Reagan-Sadat and Reagan-Begin or– just possibly–the Reagan-Shimon Peres summit meetings.

AUTHORITY TO ACT

In his address, Begin made a point of stressing that the government had full constitutional authority to act, to take decisions and to formulate policy during the transition period. He rejected as “ignorant and unschooled” Labor Party leader Peres’ assertion that the government was “morally” limited to taking only necessary and noncontroversial measures during the transition until a new government is sworn in.

In practice, however, as far as can be foreseen, the immediate foreign policy issues likely to arise are non-controversial. Begin would act forcefully if the U.S. Administration goes ahead with its intention to seek Congressional approval for the sale of AWACS intelligence-gathering planes to Saudi Arabia. Israel is pledged to fight this move in the court of American public opinion and this Israeli opposition to the proposed sale is a matter of broad national consensus.

Similarly, the prospect of Italy or France reestablishing nuclear know how supply channels to Iraq would be fiercely opposed by Israel under the transition government if it seemed imminent. On this, too, there is broad bipartisan agreement.

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