Israelis see Kennedy wins as loss for Egypt
Jerusalem — In Hebrew, the latest US primary election returns read: Israel 2, Egypt 0. Israeli officials are hoping President Carter's twin March 25 defeats by a vocally pro-Israel Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will help curb United States pressure for Palestinian autonomy at next month's Washington summit talks.
Senior US diplomats here, careful to stress that Egypt also will be pressed for concessions, believe Mr. Carter will drive for an autonomy breakthrough despite his upset defeats in New York and Connecticut.
One element in their reasoning, seconded by more cautious Israeli officials, is that what really matters is the overall US election picture -- and that Mr. Carter remains comfortably ahead on that score.
The diplomats also noted that the issue of Israel was only one of various domestic and foreign concerns that may have caused Mr. Carter's defeat.
Israel's long-distance election furvor is part of an increasingly sophisticated battle with Egypt for American public opinion, and for Washington's favor in the US-mediated Mideast peace process.
It is a battle many Israeli officials have begun to feel they are losing. Western diplomats tend to agree.
Egypt's President Anwar Sadat, in resonant English, plays expertly for network television. Immaculately tailored, drawing on his pipe, he appears to radiate an almost avuncular assurance and compassion.
He has a knack for taking regionally unpopular stands that turn popular in the West -- whether acceptance of a wandering Shah, or open support for a US administration short of such foreign friends.
Beyond mere media packaging, one veteran Israeli politician notes, "Mr. Sadat is seen, even by many Israelis, as a leader of courage and charisma, one of the last specimens of an era that produced public figures like Marshal Tito, De Gaulle, or Roosevelt."
By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's English -- and his policies -- seem to play more harshly abroad. Israeli officials argue that Mr. Begin's resistance to international pressure for negotiating concessions takes every bit as much courage as Mr. Sadat's part in the pressure campaign.
But some acknowledge the Prime Minister often seems to come over aggressively , an image hardly helped by his tendency to answer outside criticism with announcement of new settlement moves on the Israeli-occupied Jordan West Bank.
For Israel, Senator Kennedy's primary triumphs seemed a return to what one official called "the good old days."
"Here, Senator Kennedy was running almost the kind of pro-Israeli campaign we used to see in the 1960s," he said, meaning in the days before the controversy over escalating Israeli settlement on the West Bank, before the ascendancy of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), before the oil squeeze. "And he won, not only with Jewish Americans in New York, but with other voters, too.
"That seems to mean two things," said the official, who has traveled extensively in the United States. "First, a lot of Jews are angry with Mr. Carter and a lot of other voters don't like him either. Second, the nomination could go down to the wire, past [the summit with Mr. Begin in] April and past May 26," the agreed target date for a Palestinian autonomy accord.
News of the primaries, which headed Israeli radio's morning newscasts, came on the heels of a pre-summit visit by US Middle East negotiator Sol Linowitz. The Linowitz team stressed Mr. Carter's determination to mark real progress by May 26, a message especially worrying to Israeli officials, since Washington is closer to Egypt on the central issue of just how "full" autonomy must be.
The US negotiators made it clear in private conversation with the Monitor that although some major issues could be put off past May, President Carter would be pushing for substantive concessions when Mr. Begin goes to Washington.
The initial reaction, or hope, among Israeli officials after the primary results was that Mr. Carter now might be constrained by domestic political pressures.
Some officials looked further ahead, to the US election day in November. While campaign promises have a way of eroding in the White House, both Mr. Kennedy and prime Republican Party challenger Ronald Reagan have been proclaiming undiluted support for Israel.
Mr. Carter, by contrast, is seen by many Israeli officials as open to eventual dialogue with the PLO.
If Mr. Carter wins re-election, more than a few officials argue, Israel could be in for a tough four years.