The Arab world reacted with surprising restraint today to the right-wing Likud Party's triumph in Israel's parliamentary elections.
Government-controlled newspapers and broadcasting stations predictably deplored the results as a new obstacle to the peace settlement that the major Arab states profess to seek, and denounced Likud leader Menachem Begin as an extremist.
There was apparently a strong feeling at the leadership level, however, that the change in Israel need not necessarily thwart the dilomatic drive for a settlement that Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia have been waging for months.
The reason, according to Arab diplomats and commentators, is that the Arabs see the Israelis as basically all alike, differing in tactics but not in strategy; thus, in this view, the Arabs are pinning their settlement hopes on the United States, not on whatever government is in Jerusalem.
"They're all hawks to us," an Egyptian diplomat said of the Israelis.
Officially, the government of President Anwar Sadat maintained total silence about the Israeli outcome. A definitive response is likely to emerge later in the week after Sadat confers in Saudi Arabia with King Khalid and Crown Prince Fahd and with Syrian President Hafez Assad. The Arab leaders are scheduled to begin their conference Thursday afternoon.
They are expected to discuss the message Prince Fahd will take to Washington next week, when he is to meet with President Carter. Assad and Sadat have already met Carter, as has King Hussein of Jordan, and Fahd is expected to tell the Americans the same thing they heard from the others - that the Arabs are ready to make peace and accept the existence of Israel, and it is up to the Americans to bring the Israelis to the bargaining table and persuade them to give up the territory they occupied in the 1967 war.
Arab sources said they see no reason that message should change because Begin is going to become Israel's prime minister
Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam, speaking to reporters at the Islamic foreign ministers' conference in Tripoli, Libya, said he saw "nothing new" in the situation.
This reflects the line that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi expressed months ago, when Israel first scheduled the elections. He called the move a tactic Israel was using to avoid going to a new Geneva conference and added, "We will push them, whether it is Rabin or Ben Gurion back from his tomb," referring to the late Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.
An Egyptian analyst said today that "Likud is the most intransigent party" in Israel, but he said Labor was defeated for domestic reasons, not on issues of international policy in which, he said, there is little difference between the two.
Officials here and in Jordan expressed some disappointment that no party emerged with a clear majority or strong popular mandate. Many Arabs believe that the perilous colaition politics of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin prevented him from making controversial moves toward peace. They had hoped that after the election they would be dealing with a leader who was more sure of his authority.
Much of the negative comment in the Arab press was directed more toward Begin's past than toward his present policies, which are apparently conciliatory.Several Arab media recalled his association with the Zionist underground organization the Irgun, and denounced him a "terrorist."
Egyptian cynics said they hoped that at least Begin would not refused to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization on the ground that it is a terrorist organization, as all his predecessors have done.
Yasser Rabbo, PLO information director, was quoted as saying that the election "brings near the danger of another war" and that "The strong swing toward the right in Israel indicated that the Zionist institution is moving toward preparations to thwart any just peace in the region."
The PLO representative in Geneva, Dawud Barakat, called the Likud victory "a setback to all moves toward peace" and added that "Arab countries must be . . . prepared for a fifth war. Barakat, too, referred to Begin as the "chief of a terrorist movement."
Damascus radio deplored the victory of "the most terrorist, extremist and pig-headed block" in Israel. But the newspaper Tichrin, which is close to President Assad, while blasting Likud, also observed that the election would "not be a decisive factor" in the region's future.