NEW YORK (Nov. 14)
Ambassador Robert Strauss, who is ending his duties as President Carter’s special Middle East envoy to head Carter’s reelection campaign, expressed ” cautious optimism” last night that the Palestinian autonomy negotiations between Israel, Egypt and the United States will reach a successful conclusion by the end of May, the “target date” for the talks.
But he admitted, however, that the negotiations face “a great deal of trouble,” although, he said “progress has been made,” and “we are moving ahead ” with the talks.
Speaking at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Strauss said the gap between the Egyptians and Israelis on self-rule for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is that Israel objects to giving the proposed self-governing authority any legislative power while the Egyptians believe the Palestinians should have the ability to determine their own future. Premier Menachem Begin, Strauss noted, says that if the Palestinians will receive “legislative authority” they will legislate the creation of a Palestinian state. This is “a logical” concern on the part of Begin, he said.
Strauss, who will be going to the Mideast again this weekend before taking over Carter’s reelection campaign, said that Begin “captured my imagination,” and said be became the Israeli Premier’s “defender around the world.” Describing Begin as a “brave” leader who had to take bold decisions, Strauss said Begin faces complex internal problems. While President Anwar Sadat enjoys full support in Egypt, he observed, “the coalition government (in Israel) is very hard on Begin.”
Strauss said that he believes that if the coalition government in Israel collapses, it will be for “something trivial” and marginal and not for the major issues concerning foreign policy. He said President Carter and himself are aware of Begin’s internal difficulties.
CITES CLOSENESS BETWEEN BEGIN, SADAT
Strauss pointed out that on achievement by itself is the “amazing” climate in which the negotiations on autonomy are taking place. “Begin and Sadat-are not just friends… their relations are deeper than. The chemistry between the two men is unbelievable. You have to see it to believe it, ” Strauss told the more than 30 Jewish leaders present at the meeting, recalling that Sadat told him after one of their meetings before he (Strauss) flew to Israel, “Don’t push Menachem like you did me…. he is too fatigued.”
As for the Carter Administration’s Mideast policy, Strauss said its “cornerstone” is that there must be a stability in the Mideast and that there cannot be a stability in the Mideast and that there cannot be a stability in the Mideast without a secure and strong Israel. He said President Carter has a “Zionistic” – like commitment to the State of Israel which grows from his “religious belief.”
Strauss reiterated the Administration’s commitment to Israel before several hundred businessmen at a dinner last night given by the American Israel Chamber of Commerce at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel here.