Israel Seriously Concerned over U.S. “tilt” Toward Saudi Peace Plan

Israel is expressing serious concern, both publicly and in diplomatic contacts, over what it sees as a tilt in U. S. policy towards Saudi Arabia that goes beyond the AWACS sale and seems to presage a disenchantment with Camp David.

Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, in a weekend radio interview, expressed “amazement” that Washington could have found positive elements in the Saudi Arabian eight-point peace plan, recently put forward by Crown Prince Fahd. Shamir said the plan was “a poisoned dagger” aimed at Israel’s heart and life.

Premier Menachem Begin is reported to have made the same point, in diplomatic language, in a letter he sent to President Reagan over the weekend. The letter, in reply to Reagan’s reassurances to Israel following the Senate AWACS vote Wednesday, stresses Israel’s concerns about the spy-plane sale and its anxiety over signs of U. S. diplomatic and political support for the Saudis in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

(Reagan, in a brief exchange with reporters Thursday, the day after the Senate approved the AWACS sale, said “the most significant part (of the Fahd plan) is the fact that they (Saudis) recognized Israel as a nation to be negotiated with.” Later in the day, Secretary of State Alexander Haig observed that “There are aspects in the eight-point proposal made by Crown Prince Fahd by which we are encouraged.”)

REPLACEMENT OF CAMP DAVID FEARED

The government here was distressed by President Reagan’s statement, soon after the Saudi vote, praising the Fahd plan. Subsequent reassurances from the State Department — including a meeting between Haig and Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron over the weekend — have not entirely allayed Israeli trepidations.

One pessimistic school of thought here is that the Fahd plan will gradually replace Camp David as the basis of American peacemaking efforts in the area and that this process will accelerate after the final Israeli withdrawal from Sinai next April.

This thesis predicts that Egypt, too, will become more outspokenly favorable towards the Fahd plan, and less wedded to the Camp David process, after April.

Moreover, the Western Europeans are expected to move in the same direction. Some Israeli observers see the current European Economic Community’s readiness to participate in the Sinai Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) as dovetailing with this same overall pattern: A new moderate Arab and U.S.-Western diplomatic initiative, “expanding” Camp David but still effectively keeping the Soviets out of the Mideast peacemaking process.

The Fahd plan calls for total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment, after a few months of UN trusteeship, of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It would also involve “dismantlement” of the Israeli settlements and “asserting the rights of the Palestinian people and compensating those who do not wish to return to their homeland.”

The plan affirms “the right of all countries in the region to live in peace,” and calls for guarantees by “the UN or some of its members” to back up implementation of the plan’s principles.

When Prince Fahd first announed the plan two months ago, Israel flatly rejected it as a recipe for the eventual dismemberment of the Jewish state. The U. S. State Department in its initial reaction, found nothing new in Fahd’s proposals.

Now, however, Israeli observers believe they can detect a marked shift in the American attitude.

FAHD AND SADAT APPROACHES CONTRASTED

Shamir referred to the Fahd plan in his interview as a “collage of anti-Israel UN resolutions.” He pointed out that the words “peace” and “negotiations” do not appear anywhere in the Saudi formulation. “Israel” is mentioned by name only twice — in the context of demands for its withdrawal.

There is none of the “acceptance” of Israel that characterized the late Anwar Sadat’s initial 1977 peace overtures, Shamir noted in a separate interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Sadat’s substantive positions in his 1977 Knesset speech were admittedly not much different from those of the Fahd plan. But his approach was entirely different. His bold vision of full peace and normalization, with Israel being “accepted” in the region, was the key element “that broke the psychological barrier, as Sadat himself rightly said,” Shamir explained.

SHARON POSTPONES WASHINGTON VISIT

Begin will address himself to the U. S.-Saudi relationship and its repercussions on Israel tomorrow when he delivers a major foreign policy speech at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset. At today’s Cabinet meeting, Begin won the ministers’ prior approval of it. He also read the letter he sent to President Reagan taking issue with “certain voices emanating from Washington recently” that had praised the “so-called Saudi peace plan.” Israeli sources said the Premier did not refer directly to Reagan’s own remarks, but the implication was obvious.

Ambassador Ephraim Evron is due here from Washington tonight for a leave-and-consultations visit. He will report to Begin on the state of relations with the U. S. in the wake of the AWACS battle and in light of the U. S.-Saudi flirtation.

In Tel Aviv, meanwhile, Defense Ministry source confirmed a report in Maariv today that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon has “postponed” a trip by four ranking Israel Army officers to Washington and had also put off his own planned visit to the U. S. for the time being.

The two visits, originally scheduled for this month, were to have launched the Israel-U. S. strategic cooperation talks agreed upon in principle by Reagan and Begin at their summit talks in September.

The defense sources here confirmed that Sharon took these steps as a deliberate expression of Israel’s anger and concern over current U. S. political and military actions involving this area.

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