In a pointed response to misgivings expressed by Israeli officials and their allies in Washington, the Carter administration declared yesterday that the Jewish state should withdraw from captured territories on all fronts as part of a Middle East peace agreement.
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III, in a statement issued after White House clearance, underlined the urgency of retaining undiminished diplomatic momentum in the volatile region. "We believe strongly that progress toward a negotiated peace in the Middle East is essential this year if future disaster is to be avoided," he said.
Asked to elaborate on the potential disaster, Carter said he had in mind "the resumption of all-out war" in the Middle East.
State Department officials said the 10-paragraph U.S. statement was in response to "disturbing" comments by the new Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, and his foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, that appeared to rule out territorial concessions to the Arabs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The officials said the statement also responded to criticisms by Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) of President Carter's announced guidelines for pursuit of an Arab-Israeli settlement.
In substance, yesterday's policy statement did not go beyond the presidential statements of recent months or Vice President Mondale's recent speech summarizing the main points of the U.S. position.
The statement made clearer than before, however, President Carter's determination to push ahead with the diplomatic process he has started despite the views of Begin, Dayan and the right-wing Likud Party that has come to power in Israel.
While noting that Arabs and Israelis alike must make "difficult compromises" in order to advance a settlement, the statement was most specific in its references to Israeli withdrawal and appeared to be intended to reassert the U.S. position on this point in unmistakable fashion.
The statement said the United States has consistently backed U.N. Resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands in return for peace. The statement added:
"We consider that this resolution means withdrawal on all three fronts in the Middle East dispute - Sinai, Golan Heights and West Bank-Gaza - with the exact borders and security arrangements being agreed in the negotiations.
"These negotiations must start without any preconditions from any side. This means no territories, including the West Bank, are automatically excluded from the items to be negotiated.
"To automatically exclude any territories under dispute strikes us as contradictory to the principle of negotiating without preconditions. Nor does it conform to the spirit of Resolution 242, which forms the framework for these negotiations."
The statement also noted that "the Arab states will have to agree to implement a kind of peace which produces confidence in its durability. In our view, that means security arrangements on all fronts, satisfactory to all parties, to guarantee established borders and steps toward the normalization of relations with Israel."
A durable peace settlement also must deal with the Palestinian issue, the statement said. Despite Javits' objection in a Senate speech to talk of a Palestinian "homeland," the statement repeated that term.