U.S. Middle East envoy Robert Strauss told Israel today that, despite its strenuous objections, the United States has tentatively decided to propose a new U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at bringing Palestinians into the Camp David peace process.
The message, given to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Jerusalem before Strauss flew to Egypt, immediately drew what Strauss characterized as "negative results."
It came amid signs in Jerusalem of an increasingly tough Israeli attitude to what Begin and his colleagues view as attempts by Washington to alter the ground rules for the Palestinian autonomy negotiations set up in the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of March 26.
The clear enunciation of U.S. intentions on the resolution seemed likely to increase the strain that has marked U.S.-Israeli relations for the past several weeks. The Israeli Cabinet was scheduled to meet Sunday for discussions on it, and Strauss is to be in Israel then to receive the Cabinet's official response.
In Washington, the State Department said the United States will continue to oppose any U.N. resolution which seeks to "amend or supplant" Resolution 242, the withdrawal-for-peace bargain -- adopted after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War -- which has been the foundation for Middle East peace efforts. Spokesman Thomas Reston repeated that the United States will veto any resolution calling for an independent Palestinian state.
Reston said the United States may, however, introduce a resolution that is "fully consistent" with the Camp David accords as well as Resolutions 242 and 338.
[Strauss was reported in Washington to be in the early stages of seeking reaction to a potential U.S. plan for the U.N. debate from Israel and Egypt, America's partners in the Camp David process. There was no indication that a formula acceptable to all had been found.]
U.S. officials traveling with Strauss, basing their predictions on Begin's initial reaction today, held out little hope that the Israeli Cabinet's reaction would be positive. Israeli officials seem convinced that only by digging in their heels can they reverse the new U.S. initiative, the U.S. sources said.
The United States, however, has decided that a Security Council debate scheduled next week poses a major test for U.S. policy in the Middle East, they said. If the United States is seen by Arab nations to be bowing to Israeli pressure to oppose any new amendment, hopes of drawing Palestinians and such moderate Arab nations as Jordan and Saudi Arabia into the autonomy negotiations would be severely compromised.
Strauss alluded to these considerations in reviewing for reporters in Israel what he told Begin: "I carefully spelled out . . . what we see as a potential problem in the United Nations," he said. "I raised the possibility that our nation might go forward with a resolution of its own in the United Nations."
Under consideration at U.N. headquarters is an Arab-sponsored resolution that restates the basic formula of Security Council Resolution 242 and adds to it a reference to Palestinian rights to self-determination including a Palestinian state.
The United States, while it would not support such a resolution because of the reference to a Palestinian state, is ready to sponsor a substitute resolution that would speak rather of something along the lines of Palestinian self-determination, U.S. sources said.
This is the intention Strauss conveyed to Begin in Jerusalem, making U.S. aims explicity for the first time, they added.
The new resolution would be designed to win at least tacit acceptance by the Palestine Liberation Organization for participation by Palestinians outside the PLO in the autonomy negotiation among Egypt, Israel and the United States.
Palestinians, including moderate West Bank leaders, so far have boycotted the talks because of a PLO stand that they are a sham aimed at perpetuating Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza.
A key factor in the Palestinians' boycott has been lack of trust that the United States actually will use its influence on Israel to produce an acceptable form of autonomy in the negotiations. Israel has made it clear it envisages an extremely limited form of self-administration on the West Bank and Gaza, with the Israeli army retaining control and the Israeli state retaining authority to promote Jewish settlements in the area.
The resignation of U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young following his contacts with a PLO official added to this lack of trust, demonstrating in Arab eyes that Israeli influence was strong enough in Washington to have a decisive influence on U.S. Middle East policies.
U.S. sources said the Security Council debate next week presents the United States with an inescapable -- if unwanted -- platform to reverse that impression and regain Arab confidence. For that reason, they added, the Carter administration is unwilling to veto the Arab-sponsored resolution and probably will propose another of its own as a compromise, even at the price of intensifying its differences with Israel.
Israel has steadfastly opposed any alteration of Resolution 242 -- which refers to Palestinians only as refugees -- or any new resolution that could change the context of the current autonomy talks.
Resolution 242, Israeli officials say, is the basis on which the Camp David accords and the subsequent peace treaty with Egypt were founded. Changing or amending it thus is seen in Jerusalem as chipping away at the accords and the treaty themselves.
Begin's government has warned indirectly that it would reconsider its participation in the autonomy talks if the resolution were significantly changed.
Underneath the Israeli insistence on sticking to the letter of the treaty and its basis in Resolution 242 lies a deep-rooted reluctance to see the PLO or the organization's Palestinian backers get involved in the autonomy talks. PLO guerrillas are officially referred to in Israel as terrorists and the PLO as a gang of murderers.
There is widespread suspiciion in Israel that the United States is conniving with Egypt to get Palestinians into the talks despite the Israeli objections. Egypt has openly supported efforts to produce a new U.N. resolution that the Palestinians could accept as a basis for participation in the negotiations.
Strauss, who arrived here tonight from Jerusalem, was scheduled to confer with President Anwar Sadat Saturday evening at the Suez Canal city of Ismailia before returning to Israel Sunday. Strauss had meetings planned with Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil and Vice President Hosni Mobarak in Cairo before seeing Sadat.
Strauss also scheduled meetings in Cairo with the U.S. ambassadores to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, apparently as part of an attempt to win Arab support for the compromise U.N. resolution.