WASHINGTON (Sep. 4)
Two Reagan Administration officials and a former Carter Administration Middle East expert agreed today that there is a willingness among the Arab countries to consider peace with Israel but as yet no commitment to negotiations to bring it about.
Howard Teicher, the Middle East expert on the National Security Council; Richard Fairbanks, an Ambassador-at-large who formerly dealt with the autonomy talks; and Harold Saunders, Assistant Secre. tary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs under President Carter, also agreed that the only country the Middle East states look to to help them achieve peace is the U.S.
Even as the U.S. is “vilified,” country after country comes to the U.S. for assistance because they know “the U.S. will try to help them without screwing up their internal situation,” Teicher said.
The three experts discussed “The Future of the Middle East Process: An American Perspective” at the biennial convention of B’nai B’rith International at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.
A REALITY GROWING
Fairbanks said, “There does seem a reality growing” in all of the disputes in the Middle East that neither rhetoric nor killing will solve the problems there but only “negotiations are the way to have effective long term strategic change for the better.” But, he said, to bring negotiations about “takes statesmen and it takes brave statesmen.”
Teicher contended that while there has been no change of attitude among the Arab states about Israel, they have spent a great deal of time in recent years in discussing ways of bringing about peace with Israel. But, he said, the countries in the region must be convinced that it is in their interest to make peace and both Israel and the Arab countries, as well as the U.S. must be willing to “take risks for peace.”
He added that the U.S. must be able to instil confidence in the Arab countries that peace is in their interest and that they will survive if they enter into negotiations.
Saunders, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the next Administration will have the “job to figure out how to produce the commitment to a negotiated settlement.” He said this requires “a willingness for a peace with Israel if Israel is willing to share Palestine with the Palestinians.”
Both Teicher and Fairbanks stressed that the U.S. is committed to direct negotiations between Israel and its neighbors and to the step-by-step approach rather than seeking a comprehensive settlement. “The U.S. cannot and will not try to impose peace on the Middle East,” Teicher said.
MAJOR ROADBLOCK TO NEGOTIATIONS
Fairbanks said the major hold up to negotiations is still the “lack of appropriate Palestinian spokesmen.” But he said the make-up of the next Israli government may also have an impact on who is willing to negotiate for the Arabs.
Teicher said that the potential negotiators on the Arab side are Palestinian leaders on the West Bank and Gaza, King Hussein of Jordan and the Syrians. He said Saudi Arabia can also play an important part and said it did so in Lebanon where it supported the May 17, 1983 agreement for Israeli withdrawal which, he noted, was based on a simultaneous withdrawal of Syrian forces.
Teicher said the U.S. still supports withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and is taking this position in the current debate in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
Fairbanks predicted that “nothing will emerge” from the Security Council debate since the U.S. will veto any resolution that is “not even-handed.”
“Nothing will emerge from it, which will be a great relief to all of us,” Fairbanks added. He said the debate “is not going to be helpful” to the peace effort in Lebanon or to the overall Middle East peace process.