DURING the 1984 election campaign the pro-Israel lobby spent more money on the defeat of Republican Sen. Charles Percy of Illinois than on any one other candidacy. Total contributions from Jews to the anti-Percy campaign were $3.1 million. The anti-Percy campaign was successful. The senator was defeated. After his defeat, Thomas A. Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), stated that:
``All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And American politicians -- those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire -- got the message.''
This week's maneuvering over Arab-Israel peace negotiations showed how members of the United States Senate ``got the message.''
Secretary of State George Shultz is trying to help set the stage for serious Arab-Israel negotiations aimed at a long-term peaceful settlement in the Middle East. King Hussein of Jordan has just been in Washington. The King has declared his readiness to enter into negotiations provided that they are under some form of an international ``umbrella.'' He would prefer a United Nations-sponsored conference with the Soviets present along with the US. The King wants preliminary talks with the United States which would include representatives of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in the Jordanian delegation. The PNC is the Palestinians' parliament in exile. Secretary George Shultz regards the King's proposals as reasonable. He objects to having the Soviets represented under the ``umbrella,'' but the King is not insisting on that presence. Mr. Shultz is confident that the King's proposals represent a fair and viable opening for moving ahead toward negotiations. He has urged Israel to respond favorably.
He has also, both in person and by telephone, urged the Senate to do or say nothing to interfere with the process of trying to maneuver Jordan and Israel toward the negotiating table.
Mr. Shultz's urgings were sufficient to delay during King Hussein's visit in Washington a resolution pending in the Senate which would oppose the sale of weapons to Jordan ``under present conditions.''
AIPAC, which is the central pro-Israel lobby in Washington, is pushing for adoption of the resolution by the Senate. It is sponsored by Republican Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Under AIPAC prodding, the two senators have decided to go ahead with the resolution. By Monday afternoon it had attracted the signatures of 67 other senators.
There is no serious thought of selling modern weapons to Jordan just now. But passage of the resolution would have the overt appearance of applying pressure on King Hussein. Overt appearance of such use of American ``leverage'' on the King would embarrass him. It could make it impossible for him to move along toward negotiations. Secretary Shultz says it would be ``a finger in the eye'' for the King. The King dare not allow himself to get into negotiations under the appearance of coercion.
The national interest of the United States in the Middle East is a peaceful settlement between Arabs and Israel. Such a lasting settlement is possible only on the basis of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Arab recognition of Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from most if not all of the Arab territories presently occupied by Israel.
Peace will be in sight if and when both Israel and the Arabs are ready to talk on the basis of 242. So far, the Likud Party in Israel's ruling coalition opposes giving up the occupied territories, and the Arabs have yet to agree to direct talks with the Israelis.
But the government of Israel also wants to avoid appearing to be shunning the road to peace. If King Hussein can be goaded into backing away from peace talks, the propaganda blame will be on him.
Meanwhile, AIPAC's ability to muster a majority of votes in the Senate for anything it wants will once more have been demonstrated.