The nine members of the European Community (EC) have decided to go ahead with an audacious Mideast initiative. According to very high diplomatic sources, the Europeans will make their an nouncement later this week during their summit meeting in Venice.
These well-placed diplomats indicate the declaration will contain six points. Essentially, these points will:
* Reaffirm Israel's right to exist within safe and recognized borders.
* Recognize the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination.
* Criticize Israel's West Bank settlements policy.
* Recognize that the problem of Jerusalem is particularly thorny and complex.
* Recognize the right of the Palestinians to be fully represented by people of their own choice at the final negotiations concerning their fate.
* Call for a new high-level European- Arab dialogue.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is not specifically mentioned, nor does the declaration contain anything that could be construed as a rebuff to the Camp David process.
According to the same high-ranking sources, Gaston Thorn, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister and former president of the UN General Assembly, will come to the UN on July 21 to read the declaration at the opening of the special session of the General Assembly on Palestinian rights.
Thus, an American veto will be avoided, since the right of veto does not exist at the General Assembly (whose resolutions are not binding).
Nothing could, of course, prevent Arab states friendly to the PLO from lifting out of the European declaration the key paragraph mentioning the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, and submitting it right then and there to a Security Council vote. This would lead inevitably to an American veto and embarrass the Europeans.
But, according to the same reliable sources, the Europeans have been assured by their Arab friends that such an action will not be undertaken before the American presidential elections.
The European declaration would be considered by the Arabs as a first step to be followed by the second step, namely, its formalization by the Security Council sometime next year. The European formula in effect would add a new Palestinian dimension to the council's 1967 Resolution 242, the basis of virtually all subsequent Mideast negotiations.
The Europeans expect the special General Assembly's resolutions will not go beyond the European statement and be sufficiently moderate for approval. In other words, the Europeans expect, and have reason to believe, that the PLO will fall in line with their step-by-step approach.
The US government, according to the same officials, (including two of ambassadorial rank) is following in this case a double-track policy in much the same way as it did in 1971 with regard to China.
At that time, then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was preparing to fly to Peking for a historical reconciliation between China and the United States. Meanwhile at the UN, just as in the preceeding years, the US Mission was using all its influence to try to block China's admission to the United Nations.
The genuine track was, of course, the one leading to Peking. The rearguard defiance at the UN was for appearances only.
Now, the United States has signaled to the EC that it will publicly criticize and denounce the Community's latest initiative. At the same time the US has encouraged the Europeans "not to be intimidated by this" and to "push ahead anyway."
The European effort is seen by high-ranking US officials as helpful in educating American public opinion and paving diplomatic ground for a slow but inexorable movement toward a dialogue between Washington and the PLO sometime in the future.
"American diplomacy could use the European initiative to leapfrog toward the PLO, in the same way as the Giscard-Brezhnev summit helped leapfrog the Schmidt-Brezhnev summit," according to one diplomat involved in the Middle Eastern scenario. He adds: "The European locomotive will drag us kicking and screaming beyond the current impasse."
The two ideas behind this complicated diplomatic movement, according to these sources are:
1. That it is imperative to strengthen Yasser Arafat, who represents the moderate wing of the PLO, so that in time a Palestinian "entity" or "state" could be closely linked to moderate countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, rather than to the radicals (Syria, South Yemen, and Libya).
2. In the absence of any movement on the Palestinian issue, it is impossible for the moderate Arab countries to unite and concentrate their efforts on opposing the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.