Secretary of State Cyrus Vance comes to Israel today under circumstances that are completely different from those of his last arrival or indeed of any previous visit by an American Secretary of State.
For the first time Israel is not completely dependent on the United States as a mediator with the Arabs. Israel has not established a direct negotiating link with Egypt, and the Israelis would be less than human if there were not some gloating over the fact that big brother American is no longer calling all the shots.
The independent daily Haaretz reflected this feeling in a recent editorial:
"There is no need to dwell on the fact that the American Secretary of State is a welcome guest here wake of President Sadat's two initiatives.
There is no need to dwell on the fact that the American secretary of state is a welcome guest here at any time." the paper said, but the prospects of direct negotiations with the Arabs have a "strong power of attraction which encourages a feeling of independence in Israel not totally unlike that being experienced in Egypt."
Neverthless, the government of Israel and especially Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan takes a more practical view that the United States still has a major, perhaps vital role to play in peace negotiations.
The most obvious and immediate purpose of the Vance trip, in Israel's view, will be to persuade the more moderate Arab states to support the Sadat initiatives. But looking beyond this trip, Dayan's view is that the United States is still the most important power to both Israel and Egypt, especially since the Egyptians have all but abandoned the Soviet Union. As one official put it recently, ultimately both Israel and Egypt need the United States to "prop us up."
Israel has not forgotten that the American position on the final nature of peace is closer to Israel's view than is Sadat's position. And the Egyptians know that the American position on fina borders is more in tune with their own view than it is with the Israeli position.
Thus both the Israelis and the Egyptians see the United States as using its influence to get the other side to compromise.
"Israel has "understanding" concerning the Palestine Liberation Organization and basing negotiations on U.N. Security Countil resolution 242 understandings Israel does not share with Egupt.
Israel officials point out that, thought Dayan visited West Germany and Prime Minister Menahem Behin briefed the British in London. There have been no high-level contacts with the United States since the Sadat visit and that alone would justify Vance's stop here.
There is speculation that Vance may also ask the Israelis to give gim something in the nature of a concession or at least a statement of intent which Vance could take with him to placate the Arab leadeers he intends to visit. If so, he is not likely to get much.
Begin would prefer to go into negotiations without making any concessions in advance and perhaps just as important, there is little indication that Israel really knows itself yet what it would be willing to fo other than to keep the Sadat momentum going by attending the Cairo conference next week.
Washington's slow response to the Sadat initiatives made many Israel uneasy. As one political observer said. Washington appeared like the British colonel in the movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" - so concerned with building the bridge his way that he forgot the purpose of the struggle. Vance's recent press conference, which fully endorsed the SadatBegin enterprise, largely dispelled that earlier image, however.