WASHINGTON (Nov. 15)
Premier Menachem Begin’s sudden return to Israel because of the death of his wife Saturday has prevented the Reagan Administration from putting personal pressure on the Israeli Premier to freeze the establishment of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Begin is not expected to return to the U.S. soon.
Reagan made it clear at his nationally televised press conference last Thursday night that he would discuss his request for a settlement freeze with Begin when the two were to meet this Friday as scheduled, “I’m sure that he and I will have some talks on that as well as other subjects,” Reagan said in response to a question on the settlements. “We do think that it is a hindrance to what we are trying to accomplish for the peace movement.”
He outlined these objectives as bringing “the Arab states and the Arab leaders and the Israeli leaders together at the negotiating table to resolve the differences between them and that begins with them recognizing Israel’s right to exist.”
The American effort received support from Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, who after a two-and-a-half hour meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz at the State Department last Friday, said he hoped that Begin’s visit to Washington would “mark a beginning of a change in policy and action.”
Ali said that “it is unfortunate that at a time when the United States government was actively seeking broader participation in the peace process Israel rejected the President’s (September I peace) initiative and declared its intention to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank.” He said that Israel plans to settle 1.3 million people on the West Bank over the next 30 years and charged this would result in the “annexation” of the territories.
REAGAN RULES OUT USING SANCTIONS
Meanwhile, Reagan at his press conference again ruled out using sanctions against Israel to force a freeze. “I don’t think it would be good diplomacy to be threatening or anything, he said. “And I don’t believe it is necessary. I think that all of us recognize that peace is the ultimate goal.”
When it was suggested that the U.S. cut its aid by the amount Israel spends on its West Bank settlements, estimated at $100 million by the questioner, Reagan said he did not know what the figure was although he could find out. But he said, it would be neither “helpful” nor “fruitful” to discuss this possibility.
He noted that “progress” was being made in bringing more Arab states into the negotiations as demonstrated by what he called the “unique” visit to him by a delegation of the Arab League last month. “There’s a need now for Israel to itself recognize that they must play a part in making it possible for negotiations,” he said. He indicated that a settlement freeze would also help Lebanese President Amin Gemayel in his task of reconciling Lebanese Moslem groups to his new government.
Ali, after the meeting with Shultz, said that Egypt wants the peace process started at Camp David to “flourish and widen as to encompass every one in the area.” He said Egypt was “deeply concerned over the loss of momentum” but praised Reagan’s peace initiative as a “positive step toward a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
HABIB NAMED SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE
Reagan at his press conference said that he is still “optimistic” and that is why he had named Philip Habib earlier Thursday as his special representative to the Middle East. Habib will work with Morris Draper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, who is now in Beirut, on the negotiations for the removal of foreign forces from Lebanon, and with Richard Fairbanks, who has been dealing with the autonomy negotiations, on these negotiations as well as the Reagan peace initiative.
Meanwhile, it was unclear today when Habib would be going to the Middle East. Originally he had not been scheduled to go there until after the Begin visit to Washington.
TWO GOALS IN LEBANON
On Lebanon, Reagan said he could not say when the U.S. marines could leave that country. He said they and the other members of the force, the French and Italian troops, would stay there until the U.S. could accomplish two goals, first, when it was clear that the Gemayel government was able to “stabilize and be able to take charge of its borders,” and secondly, the withdrawal of the Syrian, Palestine Liberation Organization and Israeli forces from Lebanon which Reagan said the U.S. was working to accomplish as “fast as we can.”
Ali, who said he discussed the Lebanese situation with Shultz, told reporters that Egypt “would like to see a speedy withdrawal of Israeli and other foreign forces from Lebanon. It is imperative that no obstacle be put in the implementation of this undertaking.”
He said the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel had been recalled to Cairo after the September Beirut massacre and would return to Israel when there was a change in the “atmosphere” and it was “clear” that Israel would withdraw its forces from Lebanon.
Ali, who called briefly on Reagan Friday to give him a letter from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said he and Shultz also discussed the Taba dispute. He said Egypt wants a “peaceful settlement” of this dispute with Israel and hopes it can be accomplished with the help of the U.S.
The Egyptian official said he also urged Shultz that the U.S. should begin talks with the PLO. But he said that during his meeting with a PLO official in Paris recently, the PLO had not offered to recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing it as has been reported.