Jerusalem (Dec. 29)
Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.) and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir disagreed sharply over the current rift in relations between the U.S. and Israel. The American lawmaker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was critical of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and made it clear, at a meeting with Shamir, that Washington resented Israel’s failure to consult or inform the U.S. in advance of its action.
He spoke of two earlier “surprises” this year — Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor and its bombing of Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Beirut which resulted in heavy civilian casualties. He urged Israel to exercise restraint even in the face of possible PLO provocations in south Lebanon so that the six-month-old cease-fire there can be sustained.
Shamir answered Percy with an impassioned defense of Israel’s actions, sources here said today. The Foreign Minister, at his meeting with Percy yesterday, contended that all of Israel’s “surprises” were actions taken to protect its security. He stressed that Syria’s intransigence and vital strategic needs prompted Israel’s action on the Golan. He also objected to the U.S. “punishing” Israel whenever differences of opinion arose between them.
Shamir also spoke of the “very heavy price” Israel was paying for its peace treaty with Egypt, an example of which was the violent protests by the residents of northern Sinai who will have to evacuate their homes when the area is returned to Egypt next April. According to Shamir, Israelis naturally are apprehensive over the future of the peace process once the withdrawal from Sinai is completed.
SEES NEW LEAF IN U.S.-ISRAEL RELATIONS
Percy also met with Premier Menachem Begin at his Jerusalem residence late today and remarked afterwards that a new leaf had been turned in U.S.-Israel relations. He promised to issue a statement on his visit when he leaves tomorrow. Percy said he and Begin discussed three topics — Lebanon, the annexation of the Golan Heights and the autonomy talks with Egypt.
He said that Begin spoke of “full autonomy” but did not use the word “annexation” with reference to Israel’s action on the Golan Heights.
“I expressed myself frankly about the issue,” Percy said. He added: “It was a cordial, fine meeting. We came together on many, many misunderstandings of the past and I hope it will characterize the new spirit, the new beginning that we are going to make in this special friendship between the U.S. and Israel.”
Percy also had differences with Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir who escorted him on a tour of the Lebanese border area today. When the Senator spoke of Saudi Arabia’s role in helping secure the cease-fire, Ben-Meir claimed it was the Israel army that made the cease-fire possible and that the Saudis had “as is their wont” jumped on the bandwagon at the last minute to exploit the situation for their benefit.
An unpleasant incident occurred when Maj. Saad Haddad, commander of the Israel-supported Christian militia in south Lebanon turned up at the border to meet Percy but was prevented from doing so by the U.S. Embassy officials. Haddad stalked off in anger, refusing to heed Ben-Meir’s efforts to mollify him.
Percy, who is on a tour of Middle East countries, met yesterday with Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party. He was quoted as telling Peres that U.S.-Israeli relations have sunk to their lowest level since the ill-fated Sinai campaign of 1956 and that something must be done to break the “vicious circle.”
Percy also met yesterday with former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who is now a private businessman. Weizman told an army radio reporter later that he did not want to attack the Israeli government too forcefully in front of a foreign visitor but at the same time he could not support the government’s actions.