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Behind the Headlines the Road Ahead in the Mideast

August 12, 1977
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Whether a Geneva conference of any sort takes place this year now depends on the results of the “limousine diplomacy” American officials are expected to practice next month when the Middle East’s foreign ministers, plus Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, are in New York for the United Nations General Assembly session.

The chances are not bright for even a pro-forma Geneva meeting, analysts here and reporters with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s Middle East party appear to agree, Israel is maintaining its granite-like stand against the Palestine Liberation Organization having a role in the peace process and thus for the PLO has not agreed with President Carter’s softened formula of conditions for relations between them.

Whether the PLO council meeting in Damascus, now booked for Aug. 25, will after the PLO view is considered doubtful since the Soviet government has reportedly assured the terrorist organization it will not go to Geneva without PLO participation.


Thus the talks in New York emerge as the last hope for Geneva. The keys are in the hands of Saudi Arabia, which bankrolls the PLO, and the Soviet Union, which is its political patron. Israel is seen as legally and morally on the firmest ground in excluding the PLO. The Carter Administration, lured by the Arabists within it to ease the way for the PLO to become respectable, can hardly go farther in that direction without shattering both U.S. written and oral commitments to Israel.

Infuriated by Israel’s firmness against preconditions for Geneva or inclusion of the PLO, Administration Arabists appear already moving in three directions to club Israel to its knees. One is to induce public goading of President Carter to attack the Israeli government directly. The President is being pictured as being so overwhelmed by pro-Israeli politicians that he has to cringe and crouch to even alter one word in his language towards the PLO.

Secondly, a heightened propaganda campaign is seen to pit “world opinion” against Israel. The purpose is to have the UN Security Council adopt a formula to include the PLO in a Geneva role. The intent would be to offset the purpose of Council Resolutions 242 and 338 that form the basis for U.S. and Israeli policies and the U.S. commitment of September, 1975 to Israel against relations with the terrorists.

The theory here is that since the U.S. could renege on having the PLO alter its charter of destroying Israel if it only adopts 242, then the U.S. commitment of the second Sinai agreement could also be sidetracked by a UN action.

Another tack against Israel is the smooth “save Israel against herself” activity. This is having the Administration offer a treaty to defend Israel against external attack. This is the Fulbright formula, long discredited, since it is regarded as a strait-jacket on Israel more than a defensive element and puts Israel in the role of a vassal and not an independent nation.


The fact that the Administration initiated maneuvers during the Vance trip to support the PLO has been widely recognized as increasing U.S. pressure on Israel. One observer with the Vance party saw Washington as “eager to deal directly with the PLO.”

In what has become an increasingly rare thrust at U.S. Middle East policy, the cartoonist, Herb-lock, in the Washington Post, showed two smiling American diplomats in arm-in-arm companionship with a gun-toting Arafat. Watching them are representatives of the “Irish Republican Army” and “Puerto Rican National Armed Forces” who are saying “we should be getting our international diplomatic invitations any day now.”

In the face of such expressions in American media, observers think, it is hardly likely the Administration Arabists will succeed in “delivering” Israel to the Arabs and take risks for its life on Arab terms despite the President’s desire to bring about a Middle East settlement somehow and soon.

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