President Carter's proposals for a peace agreement in the Middle East include such arrangements as Israeli leasing of Arab land and Arab-Israeli peacekeeping patrols under international auspices, according to officials familiar with his thinking.
Carter's ideas are described as an attempt to create a framework rather than a detailed blueprint for a Mideast settlement. Arising from a government "option paper," they were discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during his visit to the White House last week, and will be tried out on a succession of Arab leaders scheduled to meet with Carter in April and May.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance said even before his trip to the Middle East last month that the United States has some ideas that might facilitate the peacemaking process in this explosive and bitterly contested region. However, Vance said little about the U.S. suggestions in his talks with Israeli and Arab leaders, concentrating instead on listening to their established positions. And he refused to tell reporters, in public or otherwise, what ideas the United States has in mind.
Carter's discussion of his ideas at Wednesday morning's presidential news conference surprised Middle East governments as well as most Washington officials who have been dealing with Mideast policy.
To counter confusion and some consternation about Carter's statements, Vance had a last-minute meeting with Rabin before the Israeli leader left Washington Wednesday afternoon, national security affairs adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski telephoned a senior aide of the Israeli embassy and Vance met on Saturday with the ambassadors from Egypt, Jordian, Lebanon and Syria.
Informed sources said Carter had decided after his meetings with Rabin to unveil some of his ideas at Wednesday's press conference. There was no explanation - other than Carter's unorthodox style of public diplomacy - of why he decided to go public without advance notice to the governments involved. Rabin has said he was surprised at Carter's public disclosure.
Carter's first attempt at Middle East diplomacy began last Monday morning with his surprise endorsement at the White House Welcoming ceremony for Rabin of Israel's longstanding demand for "defensible borders."
Because those words as used in Israel have meant large-scale retention of occupied Arab land, Carter's statement delighted Rabin and sent shock waves through the Arab world.
White House speechwriters who prepared "talking points" for Carter's use at the Rabin arrival ceremony did not suggest the words "defensible borders," it was learned, nor were the words suggested by his foreign policy staff.
Press secretary Jody Powell said Carter had mentioned the need for "defensible borders" during the presidential campaign. However, those words were not used in the two fullscale speeches on the Middle East that were cleared by the then-candidate's foreign policy advisers.
Powell and Vance immediately sought to counter the impact of Monday's statement by declaring that U.S. policy had not changed and that Carter had in mind no geographical definition of "eefensible borders."
Powell was later indignant that reporters were reading major policy meaning into one or two presidential words, calling this an exercise in "reading bird's entrails."
As set forward by the President at his press conference and explained by those familiar with his thinking, Carter's suggestions are similar in many respects to those announced in December, 1975, by a study commission sponsored by the Brookings Insitution. These proposals include Arab commitment to a full peace with Israel, including trade, tourism and cultural exchanges, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories with only such exceptions as mutually agreed upon. (Carter suggested they would be "minor adjustments to the 1967 borders).
As in the Brookings plan, agreement in principle to a final settlement would be implemented in stages over a number of years (Carter mentioned two, four, eight years or more). Each stage of peace normalization or withdrawal would be dependent on the satisfactory fulfillment of the preceding stage.
Carter's suggestion of "defense lines" that may not conform to the final "legal borders" appeared to refer to the interim period during the phased withdrawal. The demilitarized zones of 13 miles or so that Carter mentioned Wednesday - and the possible leasing plan and patrol arrangements that he did not mention then - could have either interim or long-term significance.
American officials discussed the possibility of leasing arrangements with Middle Eastern parties prior to the 1973 war, without arousing much interest. Joint Egyptian-Israeli-United Nations patrols were established in the 1949 armistice agreement, and mixed patrols functioned periodically until the 1967 war. The Egypt-Israeli Joint Commission set up in the 1975 Sinai agreement was conceived by U.S. officials as a step toward eventual renewal of joint patrols.
A notable omission from Carter's suggestions Wednesday was any mention of the Palestinian problem. The Brookings commission called for Palestinian self-rule on the West Bank of the Jordan River, either as an independent entity or in association with Jordan. Those familiar with Carter's thinking say that discussion of his ideas about the Palestinian problem will await his talks with Arab leaders in the coming months.