Israel hits back against Western 'tilt' to Saudis
Tel Aviv — The Israelis have gone on the offensive against the West's perceived tilt toward Saudi Arabia, hinting they can cause major policy problems if ignored. Israeli officials are worried by recent Middle East statements by American and other Western leaders. They see them as part of a bid to pressure Israel into concessions and perhaps ultimately to bring its arch rival, the Palestine Liberation Organization, into the negotiating process.
In a series of public moves Nov. 8 and 9, Israel's prime minister, foreign minister, and defense minister variously:
* Said Israel had reached the ''limit'' of Mideast peace concessions. United States and West European leaders have cautiously welcomed a Saudi Arabian peace plan with provisions that go well beyond the Camp David accords signed by Israel , Egypt, and the US some three years ago.
* Stressed Israeli opposition to West European participation in the peacekeeping force for Sinai, if such participation is on the basis of stated West European policy in the Mideast. The Europeans, in addition to having said nice things about the Saudi plan, favor a negotiating role for the PLO.
* Staged a show-and-tell presentation for foreign reporters to back charges of PLO ''cease-fire violations'' in neighboring Lebanon -adding that Israel would not indefinitely forswear acting on its own to end them.
Making it clear that all these steps signaled Israeli displeasure over recent Western policy toward the region, one Israeli official explained privately: ''We are being pushed, and we are pushing back.''
The official said that Israel's ruling out of further Mideast negotiating concessions should also be seen in this context, and not necessarily as a game plan for the coming round of talks on Palestinian autonomy. Those talks get under way in Cairo at ministerial level Nov. 11.
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon suggested the same thing, saying the Israelis still wanted an autonomy agreement by next spring and believed this was possible.
''But,'' he added, ''the voices we hear now from Washington and Europe (on Mideast policy) do not encourage us. On the contrary, they give us the sign we must be much more careful in negotiations.''
Mr. Sharon, who is going to Washington at the end of the month to seal a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation with the US, also linked the south Lebanon situation to relations with the Americans. He said the problem could have been resolved on a basis providing ''a wonderful example'' of US-Israeli cooperation.
Instead, he charged, the very Saudi regime to which the US has agreed to sell sophisticated weapons was backing Palestinian ''terrorists'' who were violating the Lebanese cease-fire. ''We are not going to buy'' US contentions that the Saudis helped seal that truce, he said, laughing derisively.
He said he still hoped that US political efforts to enforce the cease-fire would bear fruit. But he stressed that Israel would take nonpolitical action on its own if these efforts failed.
The impression among foreign analysts here is that the Israelis' anger over recent Western policy on the Mideast is intensified by their uncertainty over regional politics after the murder of Anwar Sadat.
Israel seems to accept at face value the repeated pledges of the new Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, to honor all treaty commitments with Israel. Defense Minister Sharon stressed Nov. 9 that Israel was determined to keep up its end of the bargain and to hand back the final part of the occupied Sinai next April, as scheduled.
But the Israelis seem concerned that, should the deadlocked talks on Palestinian autonomy fail finally and completely, there will be renewed and intensified pressure to seek an alternative framework involving parties like the PLO.
''It will be very hard to think that Egypt can stick to the Camp David accord (on the Palestinians) when the third partner (the US) is beginning to move away from it,'' Mr. Sharon told reporters.