JERUSALEM (Jan. 26)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin left for the United States this morning with no specific mandate from his Cabinet to offer any new proposals for negotiations with Syria on the Golan Heights or Jordan on the West Bank, both of which are regarded here as remote possibilities at best. Rabin told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport this morning, “If I were bringing new ideas to Washington I would not tell you about them in advance.”
But most observers here believe the Premier in fact has no novel ideas to present to President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. At yesterday’s Cabinet debate he did not ask for endorsement of any new proposals and it is believed that if Ford and Kissinger broach the issues of the Golan or the West Bank, he will avow interest in further interim talks but make it clear that he has to consult with his Cabinet first.
According to reliable sources, Rabin believes the cardinal aim of the U.S. at this time is to avoid a new crisis or war in the Middle East this year, an aim that Israel fully shares. He is expected to try to convince the Americans that the best way to avoid a new eruption in the region is to face down Syrian brinkmanship in the months ahead. Israel will do this and hopes the U.S. will do the same.
It is Rabin’s belief–and he believes the U.S. shares it–that Syrian extremism backed by the Soviet Union operating in tandem with the PLO poses a real danger to the stability of the area. The danger point will be reached May 30 when the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights comes up for renewal once more. Israel believes Syria will back down from any threat to end the UNDOF presence if Israel and the U.S. stand firm.
AMPLE ROOM FOR MANEUVER
Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting ended with a brief communique stating that the ministers, at Rabin’s request, endorsed the existing positions of the Israeli government as the basis or his talks in Washington. Rabin said at the airport this morning that he felt these positions affored him ample
Interim talks with Syria seem virtually out of the question because Damascus has shown no interest in such a move and prefers to pursue its hard-line of all-out support for the PLO at the UN and elsewhere. Officials here concede that this policy has brought Syria considerable diplomatic success so far.
Although Cabinet “doves” have been pressing for a “Jordanian option,” Rabin apparently does not share their belief that King Hussein may be willing to enter into talks with Israel at this time. According to the Premier’s estimate of the situation, Jordan will not risk its assiduously cultivated rapport with the other Arab states, including hard-line Syria, in the vague hope of obtaining a slice of West Bank territory from Israel. Jordan must know, observers here point out, that Rabin’s internal political position would make it extremely difficult for him to negotiate a deal and deliver on it at this time.
One reason that the Cabinet refrained from endorsing any new approaches is the uncertainty of the Middle East situation, especially conditions in Lebanon where a Syrian take-over still looms as a possible danger. There was also too little certainty of America’s next moves for the Cabinet to take any firm decisions at this time. When Rabin returns from the U.S. with a clearer picture of Washington’s position, the Cabinet will be in a better position to make policy.
The Premier is expected to call for reconvening the Geneva conference during his political talks and public appearances in the U.S. In a speech last night to the opening session of the World Assembly of Jewish Veterans of World War II Rabin declared that “If this call is not answered, the blame for not advancing the cause of peace will rest with those who refused to heed it.
REDUCED U.S. AID A PROBLEM
Another matter of concern that emerged at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was the Ford Administration’s reduction of aid for Israel for fiscal 1977. But official circles here stressed that it was Congress rather than the Administration which would pose the major problem with respect to the level of future aid.
These officials said they were concerned that the present $2.24 billion aid bill has not yet been approved and there was talk of cutting it on Capitol Hill. They said the Administration’s aid requests for next year were doubtlessly tailored to the mood in Congress which was becoming increasingly parsimonious with respect to foreign aid.
The testimony of Pentagon and CIA experts to the effect that Israel was stronger than it cared to admit was also seen as having an effect on the legislators which would be felt when discussions of the 1977 aid bill begin next fall. Since these discussions are still far off, it was learned reliably that Rabin does not intend to devote much time to that matter during his talks in Washington although Israel’s underlying anxiety will doubtlessly be apparent.