Israel and the United States have reached a point in the Middle East negotiations where the perceived interests of the two countries are clearly at odds, driving them into mutual frustration and suspicion.
This is the inescapable conclusion after a week in which Israeli officials sought strenuously to make their case in the argument with Washington over the conduct of the negotiations for a troop withdrawal from Lebanon.
As a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official put it late last week, time is a critical factor to the Reagan administration in the Lebanon negotiations. The United States fears that the longer the troop withdrawal talks drag on, the greater the risk that Lebanese President Amin Gemayel's fragile leadership will crumble and the country will begin to recede back into chaos.
Moreover, the more time it takes to gain an agreement for an Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon, the less chance there will be for progress on President Reagan's overall Middle East peace initiative. With Jordan's King Hussein nearing a decision on whether to join the broader negotiations, time appears to be running out on the chances of breathing life into the Reagan plan.
"The attitude of the United States is that the main emphasis should be on the quick withdrawal of all foreign forces and anything that may hold that up should be brushed aside," said the Israeli official, who knows in detail the course of the talks.
But to the Israelis, time is far less important than the outcome of the negotiations.
"The emphasis of Israel is on what will be in Lebanon after the foreign forces withdraw," the official said. If more time will eventually win for Israel most of its objectives in the Lebanon talks, Israel will wait, he said.
If anything, at this point in the negotiations, Israel would appear to have few incentives to quicken the pace, although officials here insist that it is the Lebanese who are stalling. They say Israel is seeking to press ahead but getting little help from the United States.
It is expensive to maintain an army in a foreign country, but the cost to Israel appears bearable. The level of military mobilization has been cut back drastically from last summer, and there is no evidence of great strain on the economy because of the Lebanese occupation.
The Lebanese winter, once a subject of great concern, still has weeks to go. But spring will come, and the Army has been fully equipped to get through the winter with a minimum of discomfort.
There continue to be incidents in which Israeli soldiers are killed or wounded, but not on the scale that deeply touches the nation as a whole as in times of active combat. Individual Israelis remain greatly distressed with the government's war policies and the continued occupation of southern Lebanon, but there is no general turmoil over the issue and little organized, sustained dissent by the political opposition.
After more than 15 years of control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, captured in the 1967 war, Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, while not routine, is not a burning issue.
Attention is focused on the details of the troop withdrawal negotiations and the evidence is that the Israeli public, at least for now, is willing to wait with the government for the best possible deal regardless of the wishes of policy makers in Washington.
In the meantime, Israel enjoys one of its main objectives from the war--security for its northern communities. No arrangement agreed to in the negotiations is likely to provide Israel with as much physical security as the presence of thousands of its troops roaming the highways and occupying the cities and villages of southern Lebanon.
And as for what is next on the diplomatic agenda after the troop withdrawal talks--the Reagan plan--the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin has already rejected that proposal and has a positive incentive to keep it bottled up. If the Reagan initiative remains stalled because of Lebanon until the United States plunges into its quadrennial immersion in presidential politics later this year, all the better from Begin's point of view.
Compounding and exacerbating these different perspectives and the tension they have produced is the looming presence of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who at times appears to be a political-military-foreign policy voice unto himself. It is clear to even the most casual observer that Sharon is an object of intense dislike and distrust on the part of many of the American officials who must deal with him.
It is Sharon who is most vocal in accusing the United States of breaking faith with Israel and of failing to use its influence to bring about a troop withdrawal agreement on Israel's terms. Yet even within some quarters of his own government, Sharon is believed to have committed a blunder that seriously set back the troop withdrawal negotiations even before they started.
Along with David Kimche, the director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the country's chief negotiator in the talks, Sharon negotiated a secret "understanding" with unidentified Lebanese officials said to be close to Gemayel that was to form the basis for the formal negotiations. When Sharon outlined this agreement to Begin, the prime minister considered its secrecy so important that he instructed the country's military censor to keep any references to it out of the press.
Begin learned only later, and much to his embarrassment, that the politically ambitious Sharon had already discussed the agreement with two Israeli newspapers whose accounts of the defense minister's "breakthrough" were approved by the censor, an employe of the Defense Ministry.
As a result of the publicity about a "secret understanding " with the Israelis, Gemayel is said to have been thrown immediately on the defensive in dealing with Lebanon's majority Moslem factions and other Arab countries.
It is on the role of the Arab world in bringing about or blocking an agreement in Lebanon that the perceptions of the United States and Israel appear to be most at odds. According to the Israelis, Lebanon really wants the type of agreement Israel is demanding but in the face of Arab threats is unwilling to make the necessary moves without strong U.S. backing.
The United States, the Israelis maintain, is taking those Arab threats and Gemayel's internal problems as the Christian president of a majority Moslem country far too seriously.
"The Americans could strengthen Lebanon's resolve to resist the pressure," the Israeli official said. "We take the pressure into account to a limited extent. But we do not believe the other Arab countries will destroy the Lebanese society and economy. They need Lebanon too much. We've seen too many examples of Arab bluff."
This assessment appears to be the exact opposite of the Reagan administration's view of both the internal and external dangers that Gemayel will face if he agrees under U.S. pressure to the Israeli demands, not to mention the damage to U.S. interests in the Arab world if it is seen as bludgeoning Lebanon into accepting Israel's terms.
Thus, while the Israelis see time and the application of American pressure on Lebanon and the other Arab countries as serving their interests, the United States is running out of both time and options to bring about a troop withdrawal agreement. Begin Reiterates Insistence --On Camp David Framework -Washington Post Foreign Service
JERUSALEM, Jan. 29--Prime Minister Menachem Begin warned again tonight that Israel will accept "no deviations" from the Camp David accords in any future Middle East peace negotiations.
"I repeat my invitation to King Hussein to join negotiations on the basis of Camp David," Begin told about 200 people at an Israel Bonds dinner. "There should not be any preconditions in any sphere."
He added that Israel will tolerate "no deviations from Camp David, no detractions, no additions which may distort its meaning."
Jordan's King Hussein is expected to make his decision on whether to join Middle East peace talks by the end of February. In anticipation of the decision, Israeli officials have been emphaszing in recent days, as Begin did tonight, that Israel will accept "no preconditions" for such negotiations, an imprecise demand that the Jordanian monarch may have difficulty satisfying.
Although his audience included a large number of Americans, Begin made no mention of the current state of U.S.-Israeli relations.