Moshe Dayan's departure as Israeli foreign minister appeared yesterday to be causing divisions among Carter administration officials about the strategic wisdom of using his resignation to press for quicker progress in the Middle East peace talks.
At issue is whether President Carter's special Mideast envoy, Robert S.
Strauss, who is going to London Wednesday for talks, with key Israeli and Egyptian negotiators, should use the occasion to argue that Dayan's resignation has put a cloud over the credibility of the peace process and that some kind of negotiating movement is required to dispel it.
Publicly, U.S. officials said Dayan's departure was a purely internal Israeli matter, and they denied there was any argument within the administration about its effects on the negotiations to establish a self-governing system for the Palestinian inhabitants of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
However, private talks with U.S. officials involved in the peace effort revealed that there are opposing schools of thought about how the United States, as mediator of the talks, should deal with Dayan's resignation.
According to reliable sources, one school feels that Dayan's departure, coupled with an Israeli supreme court decision impeding establishment of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, has put Prime Minister Menachem Begin's already shaky coalition government under severe new pressures.
For the United States to press Begin for concessions now, this argument holds, could have the counter-productive effect of making the Israeli negotiating position even more intransigent.
However, other sources said, there is another group within the administration that sees Dayan's departure as akin to "an unexpected chemical reaction that is certain to touch off a chain of other reactions." this group, the sources said, believes the United States should try to influence these reactions in ways that will help the peace process.
Specifically, the sources noted, efforts to attract wider support for the negotiations have been hampered by the belief in the Arab world that the Begin government is using the autonomy talks as a pretext to cover creeping annexation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. That, in turn has put increasing pressure on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to prove that his separate negotiations with Israel can produce an acceptable deal for the Palestinians.
Among the factors giving credibility to the negotiations has been the general knowledge that two of the leading Israeli actors, Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, have gone against the grain of the dominant, hard-line opinion in the Begin government and have advocated a more flexible approach by Israel on questions of Palestinian autonomy.
Now, the sources said, Dayan's resignation because of disagreements with his government's negotiating stance has threatened the credibility of the talks even further.
For that reason, the sources said, some U.S. officials think Strauss should use what was to have been a routine meeting with the heads of the Egyptian and Israeli negotiating teams, Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil and Interior Minister Yosef Burg, to underscore the danger and to urge them to ward it off through swift and meaningful progress.
The sources stressed that doesn't necessarily mean that Strauss should put pressure on Burg, who belongs to the group in the Begin government advocating continued Israeli control of the occupied territories.
But, the sources continued, there is the chance that Strauss could spark a reassessment of the situation by the Begin government and cause the Israelis to gradually become more willing to make concessions acceptable to the Palestinians and their Arab-world allies.
Whether Strauss actually will pursue such a tactic in London was still unclear last night. But, the sources said, he disussed the situation at length with Carter yesterday, and, they added, the possibility of using that option is being weighed very closely.