In parallel moves underscoring the continuing discord in U.S.-Israeli relations, the United States yesterday rebuked Israel for making Middle East peace efforts "more difficult" and opened top-level talks to resolve a squabble over peace-keeping arrangements in the Sinai peninsula.
A day after President Carter presided over a White House ceremony marking the first anniversary of the Camp David accords, his administration criticized Israel's decision to permit Jewish purchases of Arab property in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as "contrary to the spirit and the intent of the peace process."
In issuing the rebuke, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said, "What we regret, in general, are actions which make negotiations in the peace process more difficult. What we are talking about is the spirit of the process."
The U.S. criticism came after Egypt, the Arab partner in the Middle East talks, had condemned the Israeli decision on property purchases. Egypt charged the Israeli move will strengthen Arab suspicions that Israel is practicing "creeping annexation" of the occupied territories and complicate the task of negotiating a self-government system for the Palestinian inhabitants of these areas.
Initially, the United States had refused to comment on the decision by the Israeli cabinet Sunday. Although Hodding Carter did not say so directly, he hinted that the U.S. reversal was made in deference to Egyptian feelings. He noted: "Decisions are not made in a vacuum."
But, even as the spokesman was enunciating the U.S. criticism, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance was meeting with Israeli and Egyptian ministers in an effort to resolve the acrimonious dispute that erupted earlier this summer over supervision of Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai.
Originally, the parties to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty had expected the United Nationsl Emergency Force in the Sinai to perform that job. But that plan was scuttled when the threat of a Soviet veto in the U.N. Security Council caused UNEF's mandate to lapse without renewal.
Israel then insisted that, under the Camp David accords, the United States is obligated to provide an alternate peace-keeping force. However, a U.S. proposal to use the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO) has been rejected by Israel as inadequate because its personnel would be insufficiently armed and under the control of U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim.
The dispute was papered over temporarily by an Egyptian-Israeli agreement to use mixed patrols from their armed forces to monitor the Israeli withdrawal. But Israel has continued to insist that this stopgap measure must give way to a permanent arrangement soon.
In an attempt to iron out the dispute, Vance and Carter's special Mid-east envoy. Robert S. Strauss, began meeting yesterday with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Egyptian Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali.
U.S. officials said the administration still feels that UNTSO is capable of performing the Sinai monitoring job, but added that Vance wants to hear the views of the other parties in hopes that an option acceptable to all three countries can be found.
Some sources familiar with the negotiations said they believe Israel might be satisfied by agreements to expand a monitoring force of largely civilian U.S. technicians already in the Sinai and to give them responsibility for overseeing the withdrawal.
The difference between this group and UNTSO, the sources said, is that it would be under control of the United States rather than the United Nation, which is mistrusted by Israel.
However, Israeli sources said last night that Dayan and Weizman, at least in initial bargaining, are sticking by their contention that the United States is obligated to recruit a multi-national force of armed troops from countries that it considers neutral and sympathetic to the peace process.
On another question that has caused increasing friction between the United States and Israel, a brief flurry of excitement was caused yesterday when Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.) said Weizman had promised Israeli consultation with the United States before using U.S.-supplied weapons to launch future preemptive strikes against Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon.
Findley, a persistent critic of Israeli attacks against Lebanon, said Weizman had made the promise in a closed meeting Monday with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and later had authorized Findley to make it public.
Following yesterday's meeting with Vance, Weizman agreed that he had been quoted correctly by Findley. But the Israeli minister denied his statement implied any change in Israeli military policy toward Lebanon.
Weizman contended that before making past forays against Lebanon Israel had discussed its intentions with the United States. He added that all he intended to imply in his remarks to Congress was that Israel would continue such discussions "before, during and after" any Lebanese incursions.
"What I said is we shall discuss and compare notes with the United States," Weizman said. "It doesn't mean that we shall agree. It doesn't mean we will tell exactly what we are going to do . . . This is what we have been doing all the time."
Findley, who has been pressing the State Department for clarification of whether Israel's use of U.S. equipment in Lebanon violates U.S. laws, agreed that Weizman, in his comments to the House committee, "didn't leave me with the impression that Israel was conceding a U.S. veto over the use of U.S.-supplied equipment."