FOR THE SEVENTH or eighth time in three months, a majority in the United Nations Security Council condemned Israel yesterday. These gestures of condemnation have been trivialized by repetition, and few bother any more either to keep close count or to pay much attention to what the texts say. There is, however, a point to this dreary exercise. The anti-Camp David elements on the Arab side wish to discredit the peace process by calling to general attention that the process has not kept Israel from working its will on the West Bank. Those elements, by focusing on specific developments like the settlements, new moves on East Jerusalem and so forth -- developments that the United States opposes -- also wish to draw the United States into joining them in condemning Israel. This the United States has, rightly, refused to do. Instead, it has abstained.
In Israel, meanwhile, the tatto in the Security Council has had its own predictable effect. The Israeli right, which includes the government, has dug in on precisely those issues to which the council majority most vehemently objects. In response to the latest council attack, for instance, a bill adding an offensive parliamentary blessing to Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 was exhumed from the committee sleep to which it had been consigned in May. This was no routine stroke of propaganda war. Egypt, in suspending talks with Israel about Palestinian autonomy, cited that very bill as evidence of an Israeli intent it could not countenance. It is foolish for any Israeli, or any American friend of Israel, to think the United States should protect Israel with a Security Council veto on this sort of issue. It is reckless for the Israeli parliament to move the bill from a committee pigeon hole to the floor at a time when the fate of the autonomy talks is in the balance.
Those talks are in a bad way. The Egyptians, to the administration's quiet frustration, seem ready to tread water for the rest of this year on the theory that they will get a better deal next year from a reelected, and politically liberated, Jimmy Carter. Even before Menachem Begin was hospitalized yesterday, the Israelis were distracted, too. Some of Mr. Begin's supporters appear ready to gamble on Ronald Reagan. At the same time, Mr. Begin may be tempted to go for early elections in Israel, campaigning on the claim that his labor opposition is too soft to stand up to the squeeze a reelected Carter might apply.
We happen to think that all of these calcualtions are bedazzling and dubious. To wait for this or that to happen is to risk the fading away of a negotiationg opportunity that cannot be kept alive indefinitely while the parties circle for tactical advantage. Egypt and Israel share an interest in demonstrating, further, now, that negotiation works -- the more so for the Security Council's attacks on the process.