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Special Analysis a Trade-off in the Making

August 25, 1977
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The Carter Administration’s apparent effort to create a climate of “world opinion” in favor of its Middle East policy continues to center on legitimizing the Palestine liberation Organization and paving the way to have it participate in reconvened Geneva talks.

At the same time, there seems to be an easing off of any harsh criticism of Israel regarding its announced policy of establishing more settlements on the West Bank and aiding militarily the Christians in southern Lebanon. There are some analysts here who feel that “toned down” statements on Israel’s West Bank policy indicate a policy of trade-off.

The thinking among these analysts is that President Carter realizes there is nothing he can do under current circumstances, short of strong statements of concern, rebukes and admonishments, about Israel’s West Bank policy. He is in the same position in that regard as he was when he was admonishing and rebuking the Soviet Union on the issue of human rights. After a series of strongly worded statements he had to concede, during a press conference, that he cannot, after all, use physical force to persuade the Russians to change their policy.


But, if Carter cannot use physical force to persuade the Israeli government to change its West Bank settlement policy–and strong statements of concern and rebukes do not seem to have any affect–he can find a way of dealing with the PLO and thereby place Israel on the diplomatic griddle.

In fact, Carter said earlier this month while Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was in Saudi Arabia during his Mideast trip, that the U.S. has indirect contact with the PLO. The President added: “We have a means to contact them and to exchange ideas with them.” This is a step away from direct U.S.-PLO contacts. Events of the past few days tend to bear out the trade-off theory.


The centrality of the PLO in the Administration’s Mideast policy was indicated by U.S. Ambassador Richard Parker’s comments in Beirut last week and the State Department’s studied refusals to name the PLO as the perpetrators of the recent rash of bombing in Israel even though the terrorist organization has itself boasted publicly of the deeds and promised more of them.

Most Beirut newspapers and some unidentified “legislators” quoted Parker as saying that Carter had sent a letter to Premier Menachem Begin of Israel to stop Israeli support of Christians resisting the PLO’s onslaught in southern Lebanon and strongly opposing Israel’s West Bank settlement policy. Parker was also reported as saying that Carter, in a letter to President Hafez Assad of Syria, asked him for “self-restraint” in view of Begin’s statement that Israeli artillery was helping the Lebanese Christians.

According to information received here, Parker was quoted as stating that the message Carter sent to Begin contained an American “demand that Israel restrict its military operations along the Israeli-Lebanese border” and that it contained a “strong American protest” against the settlements.

The State Department acknowledged the letters were sent but refused to discuss them or the remarks attributed to Parker. It referred queries about the letters to the White House where Presidential spokesmen said they would not reveal Presidential correspondence. No one, however, denied Parker’s comments.


Beginning with last Friday a series of curious statements and developments ensued. Having fired a double-barreled blast at Israel last Thursday for Israel’s move to establish three new civilian settlements on the West Bank as “unilateral illegal acts” and assailing Israel’s policy of providing the West Bank and Gaza Strip with services equal to that available in Israel, the State Department refused last Friday to respond to Israeli statements rejecting the U.S. reaction.

In fact, the White House said that the U.S. and Israel are not on a “collision course” and that the U.S.-Israel discussions on the West Bank should not be seen as destroying their relationship. Presidential news secretary Jody Powell, who made the statement in response to reporters’ questions about the consequences of the discord over the new settlements and the equalization policy, said “we expressed through diplomatic channels our concern, namely about recent steps in the West Bank.”

Then, on Sunday, when the Israeli Cabinet issued a statement rejecting as “unjustified” the U.S. criticism of Israel for establishing the three new settlements and declaring that the government of Israel “cannot accept the assertion that Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel is regarded as illegal,” the State Department commented that it had nothing to add to its statement three days earlier.


However, the Department spokesman added: “As the President and other spokesmen have noted in the past, we do not believe that the longstanding close and friendly relationship between the United States and Israel are affected by disagreements of this type.” On Monday, the State Department said that Israeli use of the U.S. equipment in aiding the Lebanese Christians does not violate any U.S. law or Israeli-U.S. agreements regarding the transfer of American-supplied military equipment without receiving U.S. government permission.

There were no violations, Department spokesman John Trattner said, because Israel is using that equipment and has not transferred it to a second party in the Lebanese conflict. He said Israel informed the U.S. about its use of the equipment but not how it was being used. In fact, he added, he could not be sure what equipment was being used, how it was being used or when Israel informed the U.S. about using the equipment.

Then, in what seemed to some observers as an attempt to play down entirely Israel’s West Bank settlement policy, Carter, in response to a reporter’s question during his news conference yesterday declared that “at this time our pointing out to Israel that these three settlements that were just established are illegal because they were made on occupied territory is the extent of our intention.” Pressed by the same reporter as to whether this was all he planned to do or say about the issue, Carter replied: “Obviously we can exert pressure on Israel in other ways,” but I have no intention to do so.” The “other ways” was taken by some to indicate the validity of the trade-off theory vis-a-vis legitimizing the PLO.


For example, the State Department refused to comment on the PLO’s executive committee’s threat made in Beirut last Friday to “escalate the armed struggle” against Israel. The committee, saying it has mapped a “plan of action” in response to the new Jewish settlements, also condemned the Carter Administration even though it has assailed Israel on that issue in the statement last Thursday.

The State Department also kept mum even when the terrorist organization’s executive committee also reiterated the PLO’s rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 242 despite Carter’s statement during Vance’s Mideast trip that the PLO might be ready to accept 242. In addition, Trattner claimed yesterday that he had no information on a published statement Monday by Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the PLO’s political department, that the PLO attitude toward 242 has not changed. Kaddoumi made this statement just three days before the Palestine National Council was to meet in Damascus.

Meanwhile, analysts continued to see the U.S. watering down its support for Resolution 242 despite State Department insistence that it would oppose any tampering with it. Carter’s assertion two weeks ago that it “would suit us fine” if the “Palestinians” would say “we recognize” 242 “in its entirety, but we think the Palestinians have additional status other than refugees,” was seen as a distinct modification of the U.S. position without any formality from the Security Council.

The point, in a nutshell, is that if Israel refuses to heel to U.S. demands to reverse its West Bank policy the U.S. may look the other way should the PLO decide to “exert pressure in other ways” on Israel. The agonizing question is whether a tradeoff policy is indeed in the making and if it is, what price will Israel be forced to pay?

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