The Carter Administration insisted yesterday that there has been no significant change in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, but Israeli leaders and friends of Israel in the United States sharply disagreed.
Their intense critisms of Saturday's Soviet-American statement on a Middle East peace settlement raised the possibility of a mayor confrontation between Israel and its American allies on one side and the Carter administration on the other.
Administration officials asserted yesterday, however, that their recent actions did not warrant any such confrontation.
These were the highlights of yesterday's developments:
Vance said in New York that the Soviet - American statement released Saturday actually contained "somethings that were very positive from the standpoint of Israel," particularly a definition of peace that includes the establishment of normal relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Israel called the joint superpower statement "unacceptable" on Sunday.
A spokesman for Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser said the Soviet - American statement "is not a change in the policy of the United States nor is it the sum total of our views on the subject."
Israel Prime Minister Menahem Begin, still hospitalized with what is called an inflammation of the membrane surrounding his heart, issued an emotional response to an earlier statement by Brzezinski that the United States has "a legitimate right to exercise its own leverage" to obtain a Middle East settlement.
"We are charged with the duty and we are going to carry it out to insure that never again will anybody speak with pity about persecuted Jews who are no more but that everybody will respect a living Jewish people free and independent," Begin said.
Several major Jewish groups in the United States issued sharply worded denunciations of the Soviet - American statement. For example, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith called the statement "a shameful and dangerous change" and "a shocking about face" in American policy. Several friends of Israel in Congress spoke out in a similar vein.
Last night Vance met in New York with Mosbe Dayan, the Israeli foreign minister, to try to reassure him of that America is not reneging on its support for Israel Vance planned to try to persuade Dayan that negotiations should go forward for an Arab - Israeli peace conference in Geneva this year.
The Geneva conference - which the United States and Soviet Union have said should converse no later than December - is the essential issue in the new American - Israeli dispute.
The Soviet - American statement Saturday was the first explicit attempt by the superpowers to take a substantive position jointly in hopes of advancing the Geneva conference. The strength of the Israel reaction against the statement - supported by Jewish groups in the United States - suggests that the Begin government may refuse to cooperate.
Several sources within the loose grouping of organizations that makes up the "Jewish lobby" in the United States said yesterday the Carter administration has provoked a crisis that could lead to a political showdown between Israel's traditional friends here and the President.
The statements issued by American friends of Israel yesterday included several fundamental objections to Saturday's Soviet - American statement.
The American Jewish Congress, for example, said the superpower statement was a "major reversal" of U.S. policy that appeared to contravene earlier American pledges not to try to alter the original terms of the Geneva conference without Israeli approval.
By referring to the "legitimate rights" of the Palestinian people, the AJC said, the joint statement appears to have elevated the status of the Palestinians at a peace conference, which the Congress said was unacceptable.
In the past, the United States has referred only to Palestinians' "legitimate interests," not rights. But the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Soviets and Arab states have used the "rights" formulation, sometimes in the phrase "national rights."
Israel and its friends view this formula as a tacit endorsement of a Palestinian state in the Middle East, something they have opposed.
The Anti-Defamation League's statement said that the changes in language Washington accepted in the joint statement amounted to "an essentially pro-Arab position," because the statement strayed so substantiallyfrom previous American formulations.STThe league also charged - as have Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) - that the joint statement amounted to renewed Soviet influence in the Middle East, a region the League said "was comparatively well rid of it."
"Past history and current developments make it clear that the Soviets share no interest in a true peace in the Middle East," Moynihan said in a statement yesterday.
The American Jewish Congress, Moynihan and others criticized the Soviet American statement for neglecting to mention the two key Security Council resolutions - 242 and 338 - that have been considered the basis of peace talks in the region.
Several critics of American adherence to the joint statement said it was drafted and released without consultations with the Israeli government, contrary to earlier American pledges.
Brzezinski's spokesman denied this yesterday, but declined to describe what consultations had taken place. Israel sources said in Jerusalem that the government there received a copy of a draft of the statement 48 hours before it was released.
Rep. Lester L Wolff (D.-N.Y.), an old ally of Israel and a member of the U.S. delegation to the current U.N. General Assembly, spoke up in defence of the Soviet - American statement yesterday. He said he saw it as a restatement of the past positions and a reaffirmation of Security Council Resolution 242 because - like that document - it referred to Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories without specifying which territories.
Officials of several Jewish organizations disagreed vehemently yesterday.
"This is a crisis," one influential congressional aide said.
Several sources predicted that Jewish groups and friends of Israel in this country would be producing statements, newspaper ads, rallies and so forth to protest the Soviet-American statement and the alleged shit in U.S. policy.
Vance acknowledged to reporters in New York yesterday that obviously there is a good deal of concern at this point" in Israel and among Israel's friends."But I hope this will pass," he said. "We must keep in the closest touch with Israel."
Vance said it should be "gratifying to the Israelis' that the superpower statement spoke of the need to establish normal relations among Middle Eastern countries, an old Israeli demand.
Vance said the new language regarding Palestinian rights was "the same position which we have had all along."
A spokesman for the PLO in New York disagreed, however. The spokesman said the Soviet-American statement was "important" because "it is an admission by the two big powers that (Resolution) 242 is no longer valid because it blurs Palestinian rights.
Israeli sources in New York said this statement proved their point that the Soviet-American statement would only harden Arab positions.