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Internal ‘conflict’ at State Dept. over Israeli Settlement Policy Disclosed

June 11, 1980
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The State Department’s “bureaucracy” dealing with the United States position towards Israeli with the United States position towards Israeli settlement policy is “riven with strife and conflict,” a State Department spokesman said today after having asserted opposition to “any unilateral steps” by Israel on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The spokesman, Tom Reston, was asked to provide an answer to whether the U.S. opposes the number of settlers in existing settlements. Declining to take the question for a response later, Reston said “I don’t know if they are in a mood to answer at this point,” referring to the Department’s Mideast policy makers that provide information to spokesmen. When he was pressed “you are opposed to it, “Reston replied, “not only the bureaucracy is riven with strife and conflict, apparently the press corps is too.”

The colloquy arose over Premier Menachem Begin’s announcement that Israel would set up 10 more settlements on the West Bank and then stop building after that. “We oppose any unilateral steps on settlements which undercut the negotiations now underway to achieve agreement on these territories (West Bank and Gazo) that all parties can support,” Reston said. Asked if an increase in population is a unilateral action, Reston said, “Yes, if not in consultation with other parties.” But when asked if that would undercut negotiations, he replied he was trying to obtain additional information “if they are the bureaucracy) in a mood to do so at this point.”


In defense of his settlement program, Begin was reported as having quoted President Carter’s statement of Sept. 27, 1978 of agreeing to additional Israelis settling on the West Bank. Reston invited reporters to read the Carter remarks that followed the Camp David agreements. The President said then, in response to a reporter’s question “on no limits on expansion” that Israelis “were not talking about an enormous expansion of tens of thousands of people, but just tiny settlements being expanded.” Carter also said “if we put in an absolute freeze on all expansion the families couldn’t be reunited.” The President said the Israelis “emphasize how tiny the total population was. I thought it was a good trade off that in dropping the expansion language (in the Camp David accords) we added on the language that the status of future settlements would be decided during the negotiations.”

The difference in views between the Carter statement and the Israeli version of Begin’s understanding with Carter of expansion of settlements has plagued American-Israeli relations ever since. But it was understood in other remarks by the Carter Administration that an influx of some settlers were not beyond the understanding.


An indication of serious differences within the Carter Administration in handling the settlements policy and other Israeli matters came from Robert Strauss, the President’s former special negotiator in the autonomy talks. Irritated over the foul up in the U.S. vote for an anti-Israeli United Nations Security Council resolution March I, Strauss, who is chairman of the President’s reelection campaign, spoke of the “damn Arabists” in the State Department.

Personnel in the State Department Middle. East Bureau and in other sectors of the Administration are known to be at adds on how for to try to pressure Israel and also how for to go toward appeasing the Arabs. Egyptian analysts appear to see Secretary of State Edmund Muskie’s address yesterday as leaning towards U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. But Reston today denied any U.S. policy changes. President Carter previously said he “preferred” that the West Bank federate with Jordan.

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