Israel's controversial new Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, is calling into question Israel's unreserved loyalty to the United States. He sees that loyalty as a major source of Israel's current weakness.
"Cynics in the West are out to win the hearts of the Arabs. There is no need to win our hearts. This is why they talk to us as they do," he said on the eve of his appointment this week.
It seems that Mr. Shamir, given his hard-line stance on a number of key issues -- such as abstaining on the Camp David accords -- will aim at introducing an element of doubt into Israel's exclusive relations with the United States.
There is speculation here that he thinks such a stand may improve Israel's power for maneuvering. To skeptics this seems an impossible task. But the new Foreign Minister's friends point out that through most of his public life Mr. Shamir has successfully handled tough assignments.
He was one of three commanders of a small, but hard- hitting Jewish underground movement when his country was still under British mandate (which expired in 1948). From 1955 to 1965 he acted as a senior staff member of the Mossad, Israel's reputed secret service.
In some quarters Mr. Shamir's hawklike views are expected to limit his operational ability in diplomacy.
Summing up his stand on Jewish settlements, he said last week, "The attempt to force us back to the 1967 border is a terrible danger. Every kilometer is important to us. I visited some [Jewish] settlements [in the West Bank] two weeks ago. All are so near -- a mere 20 minutes by car from here [the Knesset building in Jerusalem]. Therefore it is of great importance whether Israelis live in this area or not."
Mr. Shamir acknowledges that this creates a problem with 1 million Arabs living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But in his view autonomy -- not full independence -- is the compromise on which a coexistence could be built.
"Autonomy," he said, "should make the Arabs reconcile with the idea that we shall not leave this territory." After some years of living together, he added, things may look differently. "We, too, may by then appraise the situation in a different light."
Mr. Shamir's appointment follows hard on the heels of a unanimous UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements. President Carter later claimed the US affirmative vote was a "mistake."
In what is viewed by many foreign observers as an act of defiance by Israel, the Israeli government disclosed plans March 11 to seize a large tract of Arab land near Jerusalem to build a new Jewish neighborhood. Finance Ministry sources said an order signed by Finance Minister Yigal Horowitz authorized expropriation of 1,100 acres north of Jerusalem on land taken by Israel in the 1967 war. Mr. Shamir's own reservations on the Camp David accord will complicate continuing peace negotiations between the two countries.
Unlike his counterparts in Washington and Cairo, Mr. Shamir is not likely to consider the target date of May 26 as a sacrosanct and unchangeable deadline for autonomy in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He is not in a hurry. He never was. His main objection to the Camp David agreement has been that Mr. Begin yielded too early.
The new Foreign Minister believes that had the Mr. Begin held out a few more days at Camp David, the Jewish settlements in the Sinai would not have been given up. On the autonomy issue, he will not want to make the same mistake of yielding too hastily. Like many Israelis, Mr. Shamir is apparently convinced that the West is applying salami-like tactics -- slicing pieces off Israeli territory.
The reasoning is that foreign pressures are on to stop settlements. But when this goal is achieved, they say, the focus will shift first to Jerusalem, then to the borders.