Europe is finally launching its much-vaunted Mideast initiative. It is doing so out of a conviction that an Israeli-Arab accomodation is crucial for any rallying of the Muslim world against the Soviet threat posed by the occupation of Afghanistan.
The hope of the nine European Community (EC) heads of government in their June 12-13 Venice summit is that the crisis in the whole region is now so bad that it will force some concessions by the Israelis.
Their further hope is that it is not yet too late on the Arab side -- that the moderate Palestinians have not yet been pushed out of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership by the fanatics and that the European initiative can bring the moderate Palestinians into the search for a Mideast settlement.
The statement of the heads of government of the European Community due to appear for public display June 13, is a compromise position. It will probably not go far enought to please the Arabs, but it is almost certain to anger the Israelies. It may not delight the Americans but will be tacitly acceptable to them, according to European diplomatic sources.
The declaration is designed to supplement rather than displace either the Camp David negotiations on West Bank autonomy or the United Nations Security Council's keystone Resolution 242. It is intended to give momentum to Mideast negotiations in a period when they would otherwise be stalemated by what are seen here as an intransigent Israeli government and an election-mired US.
The statement is to envisage for the first time an active European role in seeking a comprehensive peace in the Middle East through revival of the "Euro-Arab dialogue." This dialogue began in 1973 and then faded away as the Arab League split up two years ago over the Camp David talks.
"We have a certain amount of American encouragement," noted one European diplomat involved in formulating the EC statement. "Possibly more important, we have quite a lot of Egyptian encouragement."
He described the rationale of a European declaration at this time: "Post-Afghanistan politics will be determined to a large extent by whether the West Succeeds in rallying the Arab and Muslim countries around its views. Not that we want them in the Western Camp. But we want them to be truly independent from Soviet pressures.
"The two Islamic conferences in Islamabad show that they [Muslim countries] regard the Near East conflict as nearer their heart than Afghanistan, though they are conscious of Afghanistan. If the Near Eastern conflict doesn't have some hope at least of Western help in finding a peaceful solution it might relapse into complete confrontation."
To prevent such deterioration the foreign ministers of Italy, West Germany, France, Britain, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Ireland presented their heads of governmert with a report on theMiseast June 12.
The eight heads of government plus the French head of State, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, are expected to approve the report and make certain portions public June 13.
According to diplomatic sources the public EC statement would:
* Call for an undefined "self-determination" for palestinians, while endorsing Israel's right to existence and security.
* Implicitly urge involvement of the PLO in the search for a Mideast settlement but not "recognize" the PLO.
* Criticize Israeli building of settlemements on occupied territory and -- implicitly -- warn against any Israeli attempt to annex Jerusalem.
* Urge resumption of the Euro-Arab dialogue, probably with a revived Arab League.
The European statement would thus not go so far as President Giscard d'Estaing has in the past in endorsing Palestinian self-determination without simultaneously endorsing Israel's security and right to existence. Nor would it appeal to Arabs by casting a pro-Arab Europe against an anti-Arab America.
It would therefore fit more with the West German concept of a European bridge between America and the Arabs rather than a European alternative to America.
The PLO formula in the European statement is expected to point out that the PLO is a political force that should be included in a settlement at a fairly early stage if that settlement is to be a lasting one. As of this writing the wording is still open, however, Doubts about it arose following the recent militant statement of the Alf-Fatah wing of the PLO.
With their statement, the Europeans hope to prod Israel into recognition that it will become isolated in the world if it stays adamant in negotiations on autonomy.
Only to some Mideast accommodations, said one diplomat, can the Muslim countries be rallied to face "the real danger instead of diverting attention completely to the Israeli-Arab conflict."