In the greatest of many ironies that have thwarted U.S. peace efforts in the Mideast for a decade, President Carter's sudden partnership with Moscow in laying down broad peace terms has roughly doubled Israel's ability to block the kind of settlement Carter wants.
In short, the President has handed Israel an ally of great potential importance; those anti-Soviet hard-liners who have taken an evenhanded approach to the Mideast until now. They fear Russian encroachment on the region's oil riches more than they fear that continuing Israeli intransigence will bring a war that could wreck the economies of the industrial democracies.
This country's pro-Israel lobby by itself has undermined peace efforts of recent American Presidents: Carter now must also face the full potency of the anti-Soviet bloc on Capitol Hill. Typical of conservative Republicans whose support the Carter Mideast peace plan has been undercut is Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), who called the joint U.S.-Soviet declaration "an act of insanity."
Little, if any, political planning seems to have gone into Carter's latest attempt to reconvene the 1973 Geneva conference. There was no advance consultation with congressional leaders. They would have warned against bringing Moscow backs to the Mideast action after Henry Kissinger had skillfully kept them out.
Nor did White House aides understand, how U.S.-Soviet partnership played into the hands of Israel's opposition to the Carter plan. The White House reaction at this writing is wonderment at the outcry.
U.S. policymakers try to justify the deal with Russia on grounds that the Soviet Union, as co-chairman of the Geneva conference, is a full partner in its reconvening. In fact, nothing could keep Moscow away from Geneva. Kicked out by Egypt and on shaky terms with Syria, the Russians have had no other road back.
Now, the President has sacrificed getting full political credit from the Arabs for his acceptance of Palestinian "legitimate rights." After long demanding but failing to get precisely that formulation from the United States, the Arabs now crediting Moscow, not Washington.
In New York early this week, the foreign ministers of Jordan and Lebanon privately called the U. S. Soviet joint statement a "tremendously important event." To them, it signifies full agreement by the two superpowers on overall settlement.
It does no such thing. Leading questions between Moscow and Washington are in dispute. The Soviets have been given extraordinary bargaining advantages over crucial negotiating points if - and it is a very big if - Geneva is actually reconvened.
But the worst of the new atmosphere Jimmy Carter has built in the Mideast is the great advantage he has unwittingly given Israel - and its American backers - to humble Jimmy Carter.
Fully one week before the joint U. S. Soviet statement was made public. Carter and Israel were on a collision course with no exit in sight. The issue was Palestinan participation in pan-Arab delegation at a reconvened Geneva conference.
On that issue even on the issue of "rights" for the Palestinian people, Carter had strong political support. When the battle with the American Jewish community began, the President would hold high cards. Now, following the joint announcement, that battle has begun in earnest, but with an emotional linking of the Jewish and anti-Soviet lobbies.
Why did the President do it? High administration officials insist privately that the Russians are serious about the bringing peace to the Mideast. In that belief, they consider Soviet acceptance of final peace treaties, instead of an end of belligerency, as a major Soviet concession.
But U.S. diplamacy had labored for four years following the Yom Kippur war to keep Moscow out. So even if Moscow has made genuine cocessions, the transition to a joint U. S. Soviet policy is far too abrupt.
Oddly, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan seems to have understood the American political process better than Carter and his aides. Preferring, above all, to keep the Russians out of the Mideast. Dayan warned the President and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance of bitter reactions in the United States. The handful of top officials in on the secret of the joint statement never saw the political issue in its true perspective. For that, Jimmy Carter may pay an exceedingly high price - and with him, the Western world.