The Israeli government hopes to achieve a "national consensus" on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank to reinforce its emphatic rejection of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning these projects.
To reach the kind of common front thatwould cut across party lines and bypass ideological differences, Prime Minister Menachem Begin will have to formulate a geographical framework on which most Israelis and Diaspora Jews can agree.
He is expected to make this attempt Mar. 6 in a special session of the Knesset (parliament) to be devoted to the settlement issue.
Thus, an unprecendented Security Council vote, in which the United States -- unintentionally, according to President Carter -- joined in a call for the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the removal of Jewish housing estates in the former Jordanian sector of Jerusalem, may have a backlash effect.
It could result in a deliberate series of moves by Israel to demonstrate rejection of the UN resolution through the authorization of new settlement projects.
This approach was foreshadowed by ex-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, now a leading opposition Labor Party politician and a newly declared rival for its chairmanship against ex-Defense Minister Shimon Peres. Mr. Rabin proposed the designation of the Jordan Valley and Gush Ezion region (southeast of Jerusalem) as being vital to Israel's security, and hence as essential centers of Jewish population.
The incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, Yigael Yadin, picked up Mr. Rabin's them when he declared upon emerging from a crucial Cabinet meeting March 4 on the Security Council measure that it was "an affront to the national consensus."
As the Cabinet's most influential moderate, Mr. Yadin has opposed the type of unlimited settlement activity characteristic of the ultranationalist Gush Emunim movement and counseled restraint during the current negotiations on Palestinian autonomy.
But in the light of the Security Council move, Mr. Yadin predicted that common ground could be reached with the Laborite opposition.
Similarly, his Democratic Party colleague, Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir, termed the Cabinet's unanimous rejection of the UN rebuke as an accurate reflection of Israeli public opinion, including that of the opposition.
A last-minute bid by President Carter to mollify the enraged Begin Cabinet by attributing the American vote to a misunderstanding (in a message to the Israeli leader Mr. Carter explained that he thought the draft passage on Jerusalem had been deleted) had little, if any, effect.
Mr. Tamir said it was "good that they retracted partially," attributing this to the outrage he detected in American-Jewish opinion, as well as opinion in Israel.
Deputy Prime Minister Yadin characterized the presidential message as "apologetic," but had no other comment. Like his fellow ministers, Mr. Yadin was shaken by the UN's inclusion of Jerusalem in the area from which the post- 1967 Jewish presence must be removed.
This reaction was also reflected in the Cabinet communique, which asserted that "there are no differences between the various quarters of Jerusalem" -- meaning that the city is viewed as a single indivisible unit by Israel's government. (The former Jordanian sector was annexed by Israel in 1967.)
The communique also reiterated the Jewish people's "inalienable right" to settle anywhere in "the land of Israel," a reference that would include the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
President Carter's sudden drop in Israel's esteem constitutes a blow to the chief executive's most vociferous local booster: Defense Minister Ezer Weizman.
Earlier this year, Mr. Weizman was criticized for stating his preference for Mr. Carter in a series of TV appearances while in the US. The Defense Minister retorted by citing the President's positive record on matters of top priority to Israel, including weaponry and peace with Egypt.
In the wake of the President's controversial image now, a political cartoonist depicted a disconsolate Mr. Weizman marooned in a snowbound automobile adorned with the Slogan: "I'm for Jimmy" -- hardly a comfortable pose for Israel's main candidate to succeed Mr. Begin.