New Tensions Between Israel and the U.S. Reagan, in Letter to Begin, Calls for Freeze on Settlements

New tensions in the relations between Israel and the United States developed today as President Reagan, in a letter to Premier Menachem Begin yesterday, demanded a freeze on Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a halt to the expansion of existing settlements, and full linkage between Jordan and the West Bank. A special Cabinet session has been scheduled for tomorrow to discuss Reagan’s demands.

Israeli leaders, caught by surprise at this development, expressed anger not only at the demands but also at the timing, just as the last group of PLO and Syrian forces left west Beirut and as Begin was scheduled to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger later today.

Israeli officials viewed Reagan’s message as constituting a new American policy toward the autonomy negotiations and the Palestinian problem, and as challenging the basic principles of Israeli policy on those issues. Israeli officials also viewed the timing of Reagan’s letter in the context of the upcoming summit conference of Arab nations, noting that the U.S. seemed to want to make it clear that it does not intend to waste any time to solve the Palestinian issue which was pushed to the top of the international agenda by the war in Lebanon.

DEVIATION FROM CAMP DAVID DETECTED

The understanding of senior political sources in Jerusalem, was that Reagan issued his demands as a precondition for the resumption of the autonomy talks. If true, the sources said, Israel would not agree to resume the autonomy talks on the basis of Reagan’s demands. The sources also pointed out that Israel would have to seriously study Reagan’s letter to determine if the message constitutes a deviation from the Camp David accords.

It was recalled that U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz told a television interviewer a week ago that the Camp David process can be interpreted in many says and that the Palestinians should have a role in determining the conditions under which they live. This was seen as a reference to some form of Palestinian participation in the peace negotiating process.

Shultz, at a press conference in Washington last month, also stated that the Camp David accord had a “lot of room for ideas” and that the Reagan Administration was forming its own views. He said the Administration expected to be moving on the issue of Palestinian rights, but did not elaborate at the time.

Begin told a Cabinet meeting a week ago, in response to Egyptian officials who were saying that Israel was maintaining a narrow and restricted interpretation of the provisions of the Camp David agreements, that Israel would not feel bound to adhere to the accords it Egypt tried to change its dimensions.

However, at least one Israeli official was quoted as saying today: “As far as we are concerned, we stick and we shall stick to the Camp David accords,” According to this concept, only the autonomy issue should be discussed at this stage. Any other ideas, such as Jordanian linkage to the West Bank, should be discussed only after the mechanisms for autonomy have been settled and autonomy is in effect for five years, according to the Israeli view.

A KEY QUESTION

A key question at this stage is whether Reason’s points are academic or operational. If the Reagan Administration insists that the demands raised by Reagan be implemented, Israel will undoubtedly reject them, and a confrontation will be unavoidable, Israeli political sources said.

The issue of Reagan’s letter is expected to figure prominently in the talks Begin will hold today with Weinberger. It was not immediately clear whether Begin would interrupt his vacation in Nahariya to attend tomorrow’s special Cabinet session. One report said Begin would attend the session.

According to political analysts, the outcome of the session is a foregone conclusion: it will decide to expand existing settlements and establish new ones. In fact, the new town of Maale Adumim, located on the road linking Jerusalem with the Jordan valley town of Jericho, was dedicated today in a festive ceremony.

RESPONSES TO REAGAN’S LETTER

Deputy Prime Minister David Levy, addressing a crowd of several thousand people at the dedication of Maale Adumim, sharply criticized any attempt to halt Israeli settlement activities, saying Israel will not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank.

He said not even a message from Reagan would deter Israel from building the Land of Israel. This issue is not negotiable because it is a problem of survival on which Israel’s future and that of its children and their children depend.

Addressing himself to Reagan, from afar, Levy said: “From time to time we hear things which contradict this (the demands in Reagan’s letter), and we would prefer to work in concert with you. But if you do not want cooperation and wish to act freely, you cannot impose your will on us if it involves our security and survival.” Levy added that there would be “settlements in all parts of the Land of Israel because it is essential for our security.”

Beyond reactions attributed to political sources, there were reactions from political parties. Yuval Neeman, leader at the Tehiya Party and Minister of Science and Development, whose party recently joined the government coal on, said his party would demand that the government make the settlements in the occupied territories a priority issue in response to Reagan’s demands.

Likud Knesset member Ehud Olmert said Israel would not tolerate any “deviation” from the Camp David accords. He added, however, that he was not certain the U.S. has yet shaped on overall comprehensive Middle East policy. “In the past there were messages, cables, letter from the President, and eventually the practical policy was not identical to some of the demands and threats,” Olmert said

Labor Alignment dove Yossi Sarid welcomed Reagan’s message as positive. He said the American initiative could rescue the Mideast from a dangerous situation and felt that the Labor Party would not object to a strong Jordan-West Bank linkage. Party chairman Shimon Peres had no immediate comment. A party spokesman said Peres was seeking “more precise” information about Reagan’s message before issuing a statement.

ARENS SEES MORE U.S PRESSURE

Israel’s Ambassador to Washington, Moshe Arens, who is in Israel to participate in the talks Weinberger will have with Israeli leaders, said he knew nothing of the Reagan message before it was sent.

He told the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee that he was not surprised by the message because he had been under the impression for some time that the U.S. would now focus its Mideast policy on promoting the prompt resumption of the autonomy talks which have made no significant progress since they began in 1979.

However, Arens said he was surprised that the message was sent at this time. If he had been asked, he said, he would have advised Washington to consult first with Jerusalem before the letter was sent. He cautioned the Knesset committee, that Israel should be prepared to face pressure from the Reagan Administration.

MUBARAK TO VISIT WASHINGTON

Meanwhile, in related developments, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt announced today in Cairo that he would visit Washington in December at the invitation of Reagan. He also said that Begin was welcome in Cairo, an indication that he had no plans to visit Israel at this time. A projected visit by Mubarak to Israel earlier this year was cancelled when he refused to include Jerusalem in his trip despite Israeli insistence. The Egyptian leader reiterated today that “Israel must realize that real peace lies in the solution of the Palestinian problem. The Camp David accords are clear and flexible enough to reach a settlement in the area.”

At the same time, Defense Minister Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala said he would discuss with Weinberger, who is due in Cairo Friday, a long-term strategic relationship between Egypt and the U.S. Weinberger and Egyptian officials are also expected to discuss the two countries joint program to update and replace Egypt’s military equipment, for which Washington provides billions of dollars. Egyptian and American combat units have engaged in joint exercises in Egypt as part of the military cooperation between the two countries

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