Independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson today sharply criticized the Carter administration for its public efforts to halt Jewish settlement on the occupied West on for its public efforts to halt Jewish settlement to the occupied West Bank.
Anderson's attack came at Jerusalem news conference after he visited two settlements as part of a standard Israeli government helicopter tour of the West Bank, designed to demonstrate the strategic value to Israel of the land it has occupied since conquering it in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Anderson's criticisms followed a line of determined pro-Israeli statements since his arrival here Tuesday, apparently aimed at convincing the U.S. electorate, particularly American Jews that he is more concerned than President Carter about Israel's security and is more favorable to the Jewish state's stand in the stalled autonomy talks with Egypt.
Anderson, a Republican congressman from Illinois, said he did not think anyone who visited the Jewish settlements he saw today could fail to see how they were related to Israeli security. He condemned the Carter administration for holding publicly that such settlements are illegal under international law and that they are an obstacle to peace because they hinder the autonomy negotiations with Egypt.
The criticism by Washington "elevates" the settlements dispute to a level it does not merit, Anderson said, because it is "only one of many issues in these complicated negotiations." There are many other "contentious issues" in the talks, he said, much as the refusal of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to join the Camp David peace process along with the refusal of West Bank Palestians whose autonomy is supposed to be negotiated.
Anderson said he also felt that installing Jewish settlements in heavily populated towns such as Hebron was a bad idea, but added that "quiet diplomacy" was the way to express such reservations to Israel rather than the public statements issued by the Carter administration when Prime Minister Minachem Begin's government authorized a Jewish enclave in the West Bank town.
Begin's plans for new settlements on the West Bank were one of two major irritants that led President Anwar Sadat to break off the autonomy talks in May. They are scheduled to resume next month in Alexandria after what Egyptian Foreign Minister sources describe as some sort of assurances from Begin's government on the settlements -- a claim denied by Chief Israeli negotiator Yosef Burg. The other irritant was a bill in the Israeli parliament to make all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in 1967, the permanent c apital of Israel.
On both issues, Anderson has repeatedly emphasized his support for Israeli concerns and recalled his long record of support for Israel in the House of Representatives. Partly as a result, Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem a Christian regarded as the most moderate of major West Bank mayors, rejected Anderson's request for a meeting. Barring last-minute arrangements, Anderson will leave Israel without having met any Palestinians.
"I think I am established as a friend of the state of Israel," he said."I am proud of that. I make no apology for it. I have supported each and every authorization bill related to assistance to this country."
Anderson also indirectly criticized the Carter administration for failing to recognize Israel's value as a strategic ally in the struggle with the Soviet Union for influence and military advantage in the Middle East.This is a favorite theme for Begin's government, which has offered its territory for U.S. planes and regards Israel as a bulwark in the Middle East against Soviet allies Syria and Iraq.
"It [Israel] is the only country in this region that I know of where we have this kind of special relationship," he said, "where we have the strategic relations that we have."
This attitude runs opposite the role envisioned by Sadat for Egypt, where Anderson travels Friday for a meeting with Sadat and other Egypt officials. aThe Egyptian president sees his own country as the main U.S. ally against the Soviet Union in the Middle East.
The Carter administration, which has given particular attention to the problem since the Iranian revolution and Moscow's intervention in Afghanistan, also has centered on Egypt's military value.
U.S. diplomats explain that Israel is ill-suited for the role despite its military prowess, because of Arab hostility toward it and the consequent impossibility of enlisting cooperation from key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia in any arrangement that includes Israel.