The Israeli government today sharply criticized the Reagan administration's attempt to prevent Congress from increasing aid to Israel, suggesting that U.S. concern with Arab attitudes is similar to a policy of "appeasement."
The criticism was first voiced last night in a television interview by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and was followed by even sharper comments today by Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir and a third senior official who refused to be identified by name.
"I can only express our amazement and consternation at the position which has been taken by the administration," Ben-Meir told the state-run Voice of Israel radio.
"For many years we haven't seen such an occurrence, where the administration has actively tried to prevent the Congress from voting the aid that it felt fit for Israel," he continued. "What's even more serious is that the administration is trying to relate this to political issues. The claim that more aid for Israel won't go well with the Arabs reminds me of the famous approach of appeasement."
Shamir accused the administration of "clearly violating" pledges not to link economic and military aid to Israel to political issues such as President Reagan's Middle East peace initiative.
"We regard this very gravely," he said.
The Israeli criticism was directed at the unsuccessful attempt earlier this week by Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz to prevent a Senate Appropriations subcommittee from increasing the amount of aid earmarked for Israel in pending foreign assistance legislation.
Yesterday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee, by voice vote and without dissent, approved the higher levels recommended by the subcommittee. As it now stands, the legislation would provide $910 million in economic aid to Israel this year, $125 million more than the administration sought, and would convert $350 million in proposed military loans to Israel into outright grants.
Total aid for Israel in the package amounts to $2.6 billion, of which $1.7 billion is in military grants and loans.
The dispute over aid comes at a time when the two countries remain at odds over the Reagan peace plan and are showing increasing signs of strain over the continued Israeli military occupation of southern Lebanon and the continuing delay in launching negotiations leading to a troop withdrawal.
Reagan has vowed to press his peace plan, and in recent days administration officials have openly criticized Israel's stance on the troop withdrawal negotiations, particularly its insistence that some of the talks be held in Jerusalem, an extremely sensitive issue throughout the Arab world.
Despite Israel's outright rejection of Reagan's peace initiative, the administration has promised repeatedly not to use its military and economic assistance programs to pressure Israel to be more forthcoming. At the same time, however, Reagan and Shultz argued to key senators this week that to reward Israel with an increase in aid now would undermine efforts to achieve a breakthrough on the troop withdrawal negotiations and the overall Middle East peace process.
Clearly buoyed by the Senate committee vote, Israeli officials responded today by accusing the administration of paying too much attention to Arab sensitivities while downgrading the importance of what Ben-Meir called the United States' most "loyal, trusted and stable ally" in the Middle East.
"I certainly hope this does not foretell or in effect mean that the administration today in the United States is going to go back to the ways of appeasement, trying to appease the Arabs, which has proved its bankruptcy time and again in the history of the world," he said. "There is no connection between aid to Israel and what the Arabs will think about it. It's not relevant."
Another official, briefing foreign correspondents on condition that he not be identified, said the administration's attempt to limit aid to Israel to the amount it had requested from Congress was "not a legitimate exercise on the part of the administration."
The official said "pressure is not the way for friends and allies to deal with each other," adding that Israel will not accept a connection between the aid it receives from the United States and its receptiveness to American positions of "political questions" such as the Reagan peace initiative.