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Arens Questions Timing of U.S. Blast Against Israel on the Issue of West Bank Settlements

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Ambassador Moshe Arens of Israel, in an hour-long meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz, questioned the timing of a Reagan Administration public denunciation of Israel’s West Bank settlement policy.

Arens, who met with Shultz last Thursday afternoon, asked him why the State Department had issued a statement earlier in the day based on remarks by Israeli Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy that five to eight new settlements would be set up soon. Levy made the remarks during a visit to the West Bank.

The U.S. statement called the announcement “unwelcome” and charged that “Israel persists in a pattern of activity which erodes the confidence of all and most particularly the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in the possibilities for a just and fairly negotiated outcome to the peace process.” President Reagan, in the peace proposals for the Middle East he announced September I, called for a freeze on settlements.

Arens pointed out that only the Israeli Cabinet can decide on new settlements and that no decision has yet been made. The Shultz-Arens meeting was chiefly devoted to a discussion of the situation in Lebanon and Egyptian-Israeli relations, the Israeli envoy said.

At the State Department Friday, spokesman John Hughes said the Department statement issued Thursday was based on Levy’s remarks. “We were responding to what we understood was to be the announcement of new and additional settlements,” Hughes said.

PROSPECTS FOR NEGOTIATIONS

On other matters, Hughes said the U.S. has agreed to a request by Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali of Egypt that the U.S. join Egypt and Israel in talks about the Taba region, a small parcel of land near Eilat which has been in dispute between Israel and Egypt since Israel completed its withdrawal from Sinai last April. Israel has said it will not enter negotiations on the Taba issue unless the negotiations include the issues of autonomy and the normalization process.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in New York last Friday that he supports a moratorium on new Israeli settlements on the West Bank. He also expressed optimism, at a meeting of the Association for a Better New York, that conditions for Mideast peace negotiations “have never been better.”

Those conditions, Kissinger said, include the border security Israel feels it achieved following the war in Lebanon, the recognition by Palestinians and their supporters that Soviet support is “meaningless in a crisis,” and an awareness that American weapons “seems to be technologically ahead of the new generation of Soviet weapons.”

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