Britain and the Middle East: differing views

In the editorial ``After the British coal strike'' [March 5], you marred a good piece on the ending of the miners' strike by the wholly inaccurate statement ``Britain's economic progress continues to lag behind growth rates in many of Britain's European trading partners.'' The facts, drawn from figures published by the European Commission, show that the United Kingdom has in fact been growing more rapidly than other major European economies during the present expansion. The figures are as follows:

One of the reasons why U.K. performance has been better than that of most European economies over this period is that our recovery began in 1981. One of Mrs. Thatcher's major accomplishments is that her policies achieved growth in the U.K. economy at a time when most other major economies, including that of the United States, were in the doldrums and that this growth was sustained despite a national coal strike. R. A. Burns, Counsellor (Information) British Embassy Washington

[Editor's note: The figure in the letter cited for 1985 is an estimate. For the latest year for which statistics are available, 1984, the British economy grew by 2.0 percent according to analysis by Data Resources Inc. The larger West German economy grew by 2.6 percent. Without detracting from Britain's considerable economic progress, the arithmetical gains mask significant structural problems, including serious weaknesses in manufacturing production and export sales compared with Europe's major European allies. British firms have also cut back on long-term investment in research and development and marketing compared with firms in other European nations. Thus, according to DRI, British firms were able to increase exports to the US only by one-half to one-third of the rate of increase made by other major European firms in 1984 over 1983 -- despite the fact that last year was a strong year for imports in the US.]

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Joseph C. Harsch appears to be misinformed on some crucial historical facts concerning the Arab-Israel conflict [``Pattern of Diplomacy,'' Feb. 15]. He asserts that until the 1982 war in Lebanon Israel was clinging to all of the territories captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was ``refusing to give up any of them.'' Mr. Harsch thus concludes that because of Israeli policies ``there was little or no basis for peace.'' Nowhere in his column does he mention the six-year-old Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. In exchange for peace, Israel returned to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula, comprising more than 75 percent of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Saudi Arabia and 16 other Arab countries condemned that treaty and broke diplomatic relations with Egypt. Only Jordan has since restored diplomatic ties with Cairo.

The principle of direct negotiations between Israel and an Arab country is what led to the peace treaty and the establishment of diplomatic relations. Egypt gained from this procedure, and thus has been encouraging Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization to adopt this principle. Nevertheless, King Hussein has refused several offers by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to enter into direct peace negotiations without preconditions. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat still refuses to endorse UN Security Council Resolution 242, the basis for peace talks, which has been accepted by Israel and recently by Jordan.

Israel has demonstrated that it is prepared to make territorial concessions in exchange for true peace. Israel is ready, but it still needs an Arab negotiating partner. Kenneth Bandler The American Jewish Committee New York

[Joseph Harsch replies: I am pleased by Mr. Bandler's assertion that Israel ``is prepared to make territorial concessions in exchange for true peace.'' I hope he is correct. I doubt it.]

Joseph C. Harsch writes that there is now a certain hope for progress in the Middle East [``A Mideast Peace'' Feb. 19], and this is after all what I believe. The war of 1967 he calls ``The Seven Day War.'' I wonder if the Monitor would have a commentator on its sports page who would speak of the ``Philadelphia Seventy Fivers''?

What Mr. Harsch is trying to say in his lengthy piece is that Israel is the one who prevented peace and now that Israel is weakened there is some hope. As simple as that: In the Arab-Israeli conflict the Arabs wanted peace and Israel not. How lucky she is weakened. Michael Shiloh Consul General of Israel Boston

Mr. Harsch is right when he says Israel ``needs peace.'' But he is wrong in assuming that this is a new Israeli attitude resulting from its troubles in Lebanon and with its economy. Israel has always needed, and wanted, peace. It has demonstrated in its dealings with Anwar Sadat to what lengths it will go for peace when a true peacemaker appears. He has drawn the wrong conclusions about Israel's two major problems. Lebanon may or may not have been a debacle -- many Israelis still see a gain in the weakening of the PLO -- but it is absurd to suggest that ``Israel has undoubtedly learned that it cannot hold off Arab opposition by military force alone.'' In fact, Israel has always understood that a strong military is not only a prerequisite for survival but in convincing the Arabs to make peace.

As for Israel's economic problems, they are serious indeed. Mr. Harsch reaches an unwarranted conclusion, however, that as a result ``Israel could not afford to fight another war today,'' and hence peace is ``more nearly achievable now than at any time since Israel was established in 1948.'' Peace has not been achieved since 1948 because the Arabs rejected Israel from the beginning and continue to do so. Kenneth Jacobson Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith New York

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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