Prime Minister Menachem Begin is withholding Israeli approval of the participation of four European countries in the U.S.-sponsored multinational peace-keeping force in the Sinai Peninsula until Israel receives further changes in the written commitments of the four to join the force.
When Great Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands agreed last Wednesday to contribute forces to the Sinai peace-keeping contingent, they pulled back significantly from their original contention that participation would be linked to the European Community's Venice Declaration of June 1980, and its tenet that the Palestine Liberation Organization must be involved in a Middle East peace agreement.
But Israeli government sources said today that the new European declarations, although an improvement on the originals, are "still problematical" and need "further clarifications or possibly changes."
"Although they the statements are not polemics like the first ones, they are still not without problems. It's not exactly what we asked for, and we are trying to work it out quietly," an informed Israeli government official said. He said the question could be brought before the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, although even more time may be needed.
"It took five weeks for the Europeans to give their answer. I don't want to give the impression that we are dealing with this with any sense of urgency," the Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, said.
The issue is of growing concern to the United States--which under the Camp David accords agreed to form the 2,500-member multinational force--because only three months remain before Israel is scheduled to complete its withdrawal from the Sinai on April 25. Although the four European countries are expected to contribute only a few hundred troops, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have conditioned their participation in the force on the acceptance of the European Community members.
The newest European commitments have not been made public, but they are understood to have referred to the Nov. 23 announcement of the four countries' willingness to participate in the Sinai force and to letters of confirmation of participation that were sent to U.S. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. on Nov. 27. Those documents referred to the Venice Declaration and the right of Palestinian self-determination, the source of the original Israeli objections.
Although Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir is known to have been willing to accept last week's statements by the four European Community members, Begin insisted that the letters could be interpreted as linking participation to peace formulas other than the Camp David accords, and that further changes should be sought, informed sources said. Israel has said that any country that attempts to base its participation in the Sinai force on alternative peace processes, or any declaration that "contradicts" Camp David, will be disqualified.
When Israel first indicated in November that it would reject Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Italy, Haig summoned Shamir to Washington for hastily arranged talks. From these evolved a joint U.S.-Israeli statement asserting that participation in the force by any country would be based solely on the Camp David accords and on the U.S.-Israeli protocol that created the multinational force.
During his meetings here last week with Begin, Haig is understood to have agreed with the prime minister's interpretation that the Europeans' latest statements do not conform precisely with the joint U.S.-Israeli statement, but Israeli sources said he asked Begin to accept the four countries anyway.