The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a restrained response today to criticism from Washington that Israel had not excluded "any territory whatsoever" from expected peace discussions with the Arab states.
Privately, however, Israeli officials objected to what one called "a public scolding" that could only increase the atmosphere of confrontation when Prime Minister Menachem Begin visits President Carter next month.
The Israel statements were in reaction to yesterday's warning from the State Department that Israel should not 'automatically exclude" withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza from the list of items to be discussed at Geneva.
The public Israeli response was purposely restrained so as not to add to a further deterioration in relations with the United States before Begin's visit, Israeli officials said, but they left no doubt that they were dismayed over both the timing and wording of the U.S. statement.
Besides objecting to the American attempt to define the shape of an agreement before negotiations begin, Israelis also object to the public way the American position is being transmitted to Israel.
Ironically, both Begin's political supporters and his opponents believe that the kind of pressure exerted by the State Department yesterday will strengthen Begin's hand internally, as Israelis tend to close ranks in the face ofwhat they see as a threat.
This latest spat between the United States and Israel appears to have arisen because Israel's new leaders continue to say in public and in private that the occupied territories on the West Bank and Gaza should not be returned to the Arabs as part of a peace agreement, even though the government insists it is willing to go to Geneva without preconditions.
This has led to questions, both here and abroad, as to whether Israel is engaging in a semantic game in which the West Bank and Gaza are to be considered negotiable but not under any cirmcumstances returnable.
Begin said in a private meeting to day that a Geneva peace conference could begin in October and that all the positions of all sides to the conflict should be open to negotiation, according to Israeli radio.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman drew attention to remarks by Begin at a meeting of the Zionist General Council here last Thursday, in which he said Israel was not "putting forth any ultimatum."
Begin said then that "the words 'not negotiable' do not appear in any dectionary of ours."
Negotiations, however, would have to be free, and as had been stated in the U.S. Democratic Party platform, "without any externally devised formula for a settlement," the 'spokesman said.
His reference to Begin's speech and the Democratic Party platform left little doubt that Israel considers yesterday's statement from Washington as coming objectionably close to resembling an American-devised peace plan.
The spokesman went on to say that the other matter raised in yesterday's Washington statement, the nature of peace, was something, the nature of peace, was something slated for discussion between the prime minister of Israel and the American President "and eventually for negotiations between Israel and its neighbours."
"It is not necessary to convince us that there needs to be asettlement," one official said. "We don't need to be encourage or prodded."
The willingness to go to Geneva without prior conditions should be enough, he said, adding that if Israel should claim a right to the West Bank, it was certainly no more extreme than the present Arab position that Israel should give back all the occupied territoties in exchange for some form of nonbelligerence but without a commitment to real peace.
Another official took issue with the State Department statement because it described peace as nothing more than "steps toward the normalization of relations with Israel." This, the official said, was an "erosion" of the American position and a far cry from the type of peace that Israel had in mind with open borders, trade and diplomatic recognition.
One of the reason behind the American statement seems to have been Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan's statement last Thursday that a "solution between us and the Arabs does not lie in the division of the West Bank."
Prime Minister Begin, at the Zionist General Council meeting the same day, said that both sides could bring any subject up for negotiation at a peace conference, "But we have every legal, not just historical right...to claim Judea dn Samaria." Judea and Samaria are the Biblical names for what is now the occupied West Bank.
News agencies reported these other developments:
The Israeli press also was generally critical of Washington, with the newspaper Maariv saying the statemtn made the U.S. position more vague and ambivalent than ever." The Daily Yediot Aharonot's commentator said Washington apeared to be trying to pacify the Arabs by offsetting Begin's statements while also putting pressure on Begin.
In the Arab world, the government controlled radio generally welcomed the U.S. statement but noted that it failed to mention Jerusalem. A Jordanian spokesman called it a "positive step."
In Beirut, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization said the United States was trying to "buy time" for Israel.
The Soviet Union criticized the United States, saying there is a "tremendous gap"between Washington's words and deeds.