Israeli officials and analysts have been poring over every word of President Carter's Wednesday news conference, following his meetings with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The reactions here, as one official put it, depend on "whether you look at the glass as being half full or half empty."
Official Israel sources took encouragement from the fact that Carter emphasized his view that a Middle East peace should mean a real peace, with diplomatic and cultural exchanges and open borders, instead of simply an end to beligerence.
The Israelis have long considered the nature of the peace to be perhaps the most important issue and the President's words appeared to break fresh ground in American support for the kind of "normalization" that Israel wants in the Middle East.
The empty portion of the glass, however, is the obviously large gap between what Israel would like to retain in territory and the "minor adjustments" to the 1967 frontiers that President Carter spoke of.
Officials here point out, however, that although Israel might be disappointed, there was nothing new in the U.S. position on this issue. "If any Israelis believed there was support in the United States, in the past or the present, for a non-withdrawal policy, then they were living in a serious delusion," Rabin was quoted as telling Israeli reporters in New York.
Much depends, in Israeli's view, on what Carter meant by saying that Israeli's defense lines need not conform to its legal borders.
If Carter meant that Israel might be allowed to retain troops in certain occupied territories after handing back political control to the Arabs, this would be a favorable breakthrough in American policy as far as Israel is concerned. Moshe Dayan, in the early 1970s, proposed a relationship similar to that between the United States and Okinawa, in which Israel might retain military bases in key locations while fully recognizing Arab sovereignty and political control over the area.
If, on the other hand, Carter meant only that parts of the now occupied territories might be demilitarized and watched over by "international forces," Israel would be less pleased. Carter would not allow himself to be pinned down on this point.
The pessimistic view was expressed by the Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv, which said yesterday that Carter "made it clear that his administration still adheres to the old Rogers plan (named after former Secretary of State William Rogers) by which there will be only minor adjustments to the 1967 borders while Israel's defense needs will have to be satisfied through demilitarized areas, international forces and early warning stations along the borders . . . There is no need to say that the American program does not answer the minimal needs of Israel's defense. . ."
"Not all aspects of Mr. Rabin's trip are to be considered successful," said the independent daily Haaretz.
It was noticed here that Carter's remarks reflected by the view of his security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski and a controversial Brookings Institution report that envisioned a settlement by defining first what the final settlement will be and then moving toward it in slow but planned stages.
Israeli analysts have said that it would be better to proceed with a series of interim agreements leaving the most difficult questions, like the status of Jerusalem, for last