Vice President Walter Mondale, seeking to reaffirm America's "special relationship" with Israel and renew Middle East peace efforts, arrived here yesterday for a three-day official visit that promises to be rich in symbolism but lacking in progress toward a settlement.
While he carried with him no proposals for breaking the six-month stalemate between Egypt and Israel, Mondale plans to meet twice with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Reportedly, he will spell out the Carter administration's disappointment with Israel's response to U.S. questions about the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.
According to informed U.S. government sources in the vice president's entourage, Mondale will recommend some changes in the Israeli negotiating posture, but will not attempt to impose new conditions for resuming the peace talks that broke up in January with the departure of an Egyptian delegation from Jerusalem.
Mondale's first stop in Jerusalem was the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in the predominatly Arab sector of the city - the last remnant of the ancient Jewish temple that has been revered by religious Jews for two thousand years.
The barricaded path to the Western Wall was lined on one side with about a hundred placard-carrying members of Gush Emunim, the ultra-nationalist organization that has built scores of Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank.They carried signs declaring, "Sadat doesn't budge one centimeter but the U.S. pressures her real ally - Israel," and "No appeasement - U.S. don't betray us."
On the other side of the path, several hundred friendly Israelis and tourists cheered Mondale warmly as he left the Wailing Wall. When the Gush Emunim demonstrators began chanting abusive slogans in Hebrew, Mondale suddenly left his protective cordon of security officers and began clasping the hands of the cheering Israelis and tourists. Some Americans standing in the crowd shouted that they were from Columbus, Ohio.
Several lundred worshipers and tourists crowded around the vice presidential party as it arrived in the Old City. Their limousines, significantly, did not bear the American flag.
However, Mondale was accompanied by Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, and this was viewed by Kollek and other Israelis as at least a tacit recognition of Jerusalem as a united city. Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 six-day war, the United States has refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital or to recognize Israeli soverignty over the eastern sector of the city.
As a compromise between U.S. and Israeli positions, Mondale agreed to visit the Old City in Kollek's company, saying that he was making a "personal visit" with a friend of long standing. Kollek, however, continued to insist last night that he was an official escort and that Mondale's visit to the Western Wall was official.
Wearing the traditional yarmulka, Mondale approached the wall with his wife, Joan, and daughter Eleanor, and stood before it silently for a few moments. Surrounded by Jewish worshipers, the vice president then placed a note in a chink between massive stones.Judaic belief holds that notes of atonement so placed go directly to heaven.
In an unusual departure from tradition. Mondale's wife and daughter were allowed to approach the wall in the segregated men's section. Normally, women are required to worship in their own barricaded area. Religious Jews who normally crowd the wall at sundown Friday looked on in astonishment, and said they could not remember a precedent.
The vice president arrived at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport in mid-afternoon, accompanied by top-ranking National Security Council and State Department officials and by 27 American Jewish leaders. The latter group represented an extraordinary contingent since its members comprise, in effect, an influential segment of the Israeli lobby in the United States. The U.S. government is paying for their trip.
Begin, in an airport speech, stressed the "special relationship" between the United States and Israel, countries that he said "are so deeply linked morally, spiritually, historically," and that "share not only common interests but also common human ideals and values."
Then, switching into Hebrew, Begin said, "Blessed be those who come to Eretz Israel," using the term for "Greater Israel" that he used in his speech to parliament during Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit here last November. "Eretz Israel" is regarded by many Arabs as a code expression for Israeli expanionist intentions.
For his part, Mondale reaffirmed a "solid and unshakable commitment between Israel and the United States." He added. "No issue is of greater importance to our two nations than the opportunity we face today for peace and pogress and cooperation among the nations of the Middle East."
Mondale reviewed an honor guard of Israeli troops, heard a band play the American and Israeli national anthems, and passed through a receiving line of top Israeli government officials.
In a 45 minute meeting later with Deputy Premier Yigal Yadin, the vice president discussed the stalemate in peace negotiations. Yadin later said that although "many misunderstandings" still exist between Israel and the United States, he and Mondale discussed "ways and means" of getting talks between Israel and Egypt under way again. Yadin said specific negotiating positions that could be brought up in future meetings at the foreign ministry level would be taken up tomorrow.
Mondale is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, Finance Minister Simha Ehrlich, former prime minister Golda Meir and opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, as well as Begin.