Israel today brushed aside the State Department's pledge to work for a halt to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as a meaningless gesture meant to encourage Jordan's King Hussein to join Middle East peace negotiations.
The Israeli Cabinet discussed the U.S. statement this morning, before Hussein announced that he was bowing out at least for the moment as a potential representative of the Palestinians in negotiations based on President Reagan's Middle East peace initiative. The Cabinet issued no statement, but Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor reflected the government's views in responding to questions.
"We believe the settlements are part of our security and in any case do not think prohibiting Jews, and only Jews, from settling in Judea and Samaria the biblical names of the West Bank is a right policy," Meridor said.
"We do not see any reason why Jews and Arabs cannot live together in this area as in other areas regardless of the final outcome of negotiations--if it is peace we talk about. But if it is excuses we want for King Hussein not to come, one can raise the possible obstacles and make any issue an obstacle."
Meridor said that no amount of American pressure would force Israel to change its policies on those matters on which there is a broad consensus in the country. He said Israel's unbending stand on these "vital matters" included the right of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, a refusal to return to Israel's pre-1967 borders, a refusal to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization and a rejection of any proposal that would divide Jerusalem.
The latest U.S. statement on the settlements was issued Friday by the State Department. In it, the Reagan administration pledged that if Jordan agreed to enter peace talks, "we are determined to do our best to assure that the results of those negotiations are not prejudiced from the outset by activities of any party which reduce the prospects of a negotiated peace."
State Department spokesman John Hughes and other administration officials made clear that the statement was aimed at the Israeli settlement drive in the West Bank, which has as its avowed purpose placing so many Jews in the territory that it would be impossible for any future Israeli government to surrender sovereignty over it.
The Reagan peace initiative calls for negotiations aimed at the eventual linking of large portions of the West Bank to Jordan. As such it is anathema to the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which rejected the president's proposals immediately after they were announced Sept. 1.
Meridor's comments today reflected the long-standing Israeli view of peace negotiations. He maintained that there is "no obstacle" to Hussein's joining direct peace talks with Israel so long as the Jordanian monarch does not insist on "preconditions" such as a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
At the same time, the Israelis insist that the only peace talks they will enter are those based on the Camp David accords, which call for an interim five-year period of "autonomy" for the Arab residents of the West Bank during which the "final status" of the territory is to be determined.
According to the Israeli view, which officials here insist is not Israel's own condition for peace talks, Jewish settlements could continue during both the open-ended autonomy negotiations and the envisaged five-year interim period.
An indication of Israel's ambitious plans for the West Bank was reported today by The Jerusalem Post. The newspaper said the World Zionist Organization was preparing to publish a plan calling for 57 new settlements in the territory by 1987; it projects that in 30 years Arabs and Jews will reach "parity" in the West Bank with populations of 1.3 million each. Currently 800,000 Arabs and about 25,000 Jews live in the territory.
The World Zionist Organization is a planning agency with no power to implement its proposals, but it accurately reflects the ultimate ambitions of the Begin government in the West Bank.