The Reagan Administration’s public promise to King Hussein of Jordan that it is “determined” to “assure” that Israel will freeze its settlement activities on the West Bank if Hussein joins in the Middle East peace negotiations, drew bitter responses from top Israeli officials today. But the Cabinet refrained from issuing an official reaction statement, apparently having been persuaded no to by Premier Menachem Begin.
This was the second time in 10 days that Israeli officials lashed out against what they perceived to be the application of pressure by the Reagan Administration to extract concessions from Israel.
President Reagan’s remarks in Los Angeles on March 31 that he would not authorize the sale of 75 F-16 fighter-bombers to Israel until Israeli forces were withdrawn from Lebanon, elicited angry comment from ranking Cabinet members and others. But there was no official government reaction.
ARENS ACCUSES THE U.S.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens returned to that issue at today’s Cabinet meeting, accusing Washington of seeking “to dictate to another state its security requirements.” But the government’s anger focussed mainly on the settlements issue.
Officials accused the U.S. of “looking for an excuse” to account for the collapse of Reagan’s peace initiative, announced last September I and rejected by Israel at the time. They quoted Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir as telling the Cabinet that the latest U.S. statement was a transparent attempt to woo Hussein into the peace process. He predicted that it would fail.
JORDAN ABANDONS TALKS WITH THE PLO
Reports from Amman today said that Jordan has abandoned its talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization on joint political action with respect to negotiations with Israel. Those talks, spread over the past month, involved mainly Hussein and PLO chief Yasir Arafat. Arafat broke off the talks last week and went to Kuwait.
A PLO official, Khalil Wazir, said in Amman yesterday that Arafat might not return to Jordan for further meetings with Hussein before the Arab summit meeting scheduled to be held in Morocco April 16-17 He said the PLO had “no confidence” in American pledges to have Israel freeze its settlement-building in the occupied territories.
The furious reaction in Israel today stemmed from remarks by State Department spokesman John Hughes on Friday. Hughes said “direct negotiations based on UN Resolution 242, which is the basis of the Camp David accords, has been the goal to which all of our efforts have been addressed since the President announced his ‘fresh start’ “as part of his September I initiative.
“If Jordan publicly announces its willingness to enter such negotiations, we are determined to do our best to assure that the results of these negotiations are not prejudiced from the outset by activities of any party which reduce the prospects of a negotiated peace,” he added. The only one of the “activities” that Hughes would define was Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
The State Department spokesman would not specify what the U.S. might do to prevail upon Israel to freeze settlements. He stressed, however, that his statement did not imply a “threat” of any kind, including a cut-off of U.S. economic and military aid to Israel.
Hughes’ statement is believed to be the first official confirmation of what Reagan told Hussein in a telephone conversation last month and what American diplomats have been saying privately to Jordanians. Meanwhile, Victor Harel, spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Washington, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the freeze issue was being used “as an excuse” by Jordan not to join the negotiations. “We will not accept any preconditions for negotiations from any party, including Jordan, “Harel said. He observed that Hussein could emulate the late President Anwat Sadat of Egypt by entering negotiations without preconditions.
The Embassy spokesman noted that the U.S. position on settlements is “well known” in Israel. He reiterated Israel’s contention that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and that Jews have a right to settle anywhere in the territories.
REITERATES ISRAEL’S SETTLEMENTS’ POSITION
Cabinet secretary Dan Meridor, who was authorized to convey to the media in Jerusalem the sense of today’s Cabinet debate, declared that Israel’s position regarding settlements are “known and are unchanged.” He claimed that those who sought peace in the area need not be deterred by the prospect of Jews living in Judaea and Samaria.
Hughes made his remarks on a settlement freeze in response to questions about a column in The Washington Post Friday in which columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak charged that Israeli officials were trying to sell land on the West Bank to American Jews. According to the writers, the sales efforts were made at a conference in New York on March 13 by an organization called Americans for Safe Israel (SAFE).
Hughes said the State Department is looking into the legality of this. He indicated that one question raised is whether there is a possible violation of anti-discrimination laws if the land is being offered for sale only to Jews.
But the State Department spokesman stressed that “who is buying the land is not the primary issue. We have on a number of occasions stated publicly that the continuation of settlement activity is a major obstacle in the way of broadened negotiations.” He quoted Reagan’s September I statement that a settlement freeze by Israel “more than any other action could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these (peace) talks.”
Israel Embassy spokesman Harel acknowledged that West Bank land was being offered for sale in the U.S. but stressed that the offers were made not by Israel government officials but by a private group, the “Eretz Yisrael Academy,” which is seeking to sell land in Kedumim on the West Bank to potential immigrants from the U.S.
WZO’S SETTLEMENT PLAN
Meanwhile, the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Department predicted today that some 3 million Jews will live in 165 settlements on the West Bank within 30 years. The settlement master plan, directed by department chairman Matityahu Drobless, calls for a Jewish population of 100,000 in the territory in three years and another 57 settlements of various kinds by 1987.
The plan assumes a total Jewish population in Israel and the territories of 6 million through natural increase alone. The Arab population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is expected to remain between 1.1-1.4 million, excluding emigration.
Israel’s population is currently slightly over 4 million, including close to 700,000 Israeli Arabs. The Arab population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is put at about 750,000 and of the Gaza Strip at 450,000,