King Hassan of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, said yesterday that the Arab countries "want to live in peace with Israel," but he added that "there will be no recognition of Israel" until the Jewish state surrenders occupied Arab lands and agrees to resolve the Palestinian question.
His comment, while qualified, nevertheless seemed to go further than Arab leaders have previously in expressing a willingness to accept Israel as a permanent reality in the Middle East. Similarly, the tone of Hassan's remarks appeared to be a signal that the Arab states have decided to try resolving their differences with the Jewish state through negotiation rather than continued warfare.
At a news conference, Hassan indicated that was the message he and the foreign ministers of five other Arab states gave to President Reagan on Friday at a White House meeting to discuss the Middle East peace process.
Asserting that the Arab-Israeli conflict has "entered a new phase and is no longer a conflict of force but of law and rights," Hassan said his delegation's presence here was proof that the Arabs want peace. But, he stressed, "There are some conditions that have to be fulfilled for this to happen."
Even before Hassan held his news conference, U.S. officials said privately that the atmosphere of the White House meeting had given them grounds for optimism that the Arab countries are receptive to a new drive to revive the peace process.
They acknowledged that their optimism was based more on atmosphere than substantive commitments. Still, the officials said that, while months of delicate diplomatic maneuvering remain, the United States believes the delegation's talks will prove to be a plus for U.S. hopes of getting Israel and its Arab adversaries to the bargaining table.
The official purpose of the delegation's visit was to explain to Reagan the eight-point declaration adopted last month at Fez, Morocco, during an Arab League summit. One point in the plan has been interpreted as an implicit offer to recognize Israel's right to exist, but other parts of the Fez declaration, which call for establishment of an independent Palestinian state under the Palestine Liberation Organization, are in direct conflict with the Mideast peace initiative proposed by Reagan on Sept. 1.
However, the general thrust of Hassan's comments yesterday implied strongly that the Fez plan is intended as a basis for further negotiations and that there is room for flexibility in the Arab position if Israel proves willing to bargain and make concessions acceptable to the Arab side.
When he was asked whether point seven of the Fez declaration means recognition of Israel, Hassan replied, "Paragraph seven means and shows the will of all Arab states to have war come to an end with all the states of the region." He then repeated the longstanding Arab position that the process must start with Israel's withdrawal from all the Arab territories it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
But, Hassan continued, "When we establish these borders on the basis of the pre-1967 situation, we must say these are the borders of Israel. We must say it undeniably. Isreal then can say that it is living in peace with security."
Referring to Washington's hopes of inducing Jordan's King Hussein to join the talks on an autonomy plan for the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, Hassan said the Arabs regard as "an absolute necessity" the talks now going on between Hussein and the PLO about a joint approach to negotiations.
He cautioned, however, that it is necessary in this process to overcome almost 40 years of distrust and suspicion; and he said he could not predict whether the talks will produce an agreement for Jordan to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.
If Mideast peace negotiations do begin, Hassan said, they should be conducted individually between the various countries involved rather than in a large and cumbersome forum like the United Nations. He also cautioned against trying to conduct talks under the name of the 1978 Camp David accords, which are the current basis of U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East.
"I do not think we should allude in any way to Camp David," he said. "Call it Camp Something if you want; call it whatever you want, but don't call it Camp David."