US foreign policy takes shape in 3 vital areas

President Ronald Reagan of the United States is doing well with his ''new start'' toward peace in the Middle East.

It was denounced in Moscow as being ''pro-Israel'' and by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv as being ''anti-Israel.'' It was welcomed by the opposition Labor Party in Israel and has been given a mixed but generally favorable reception by the Jewish community in the US.

It was treated as an interesting basis for fresh thinking among the moderate Arab countries - particularly by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. And even the more radical Arab leaders at the summit in Fez, Morocco, carefully refrained from rejecting it.

In the allied capitals of Western Europe, diplomats and politicians looked up in startled approval - and not only at the ''new start'' for the Middle East, which they recognized as being a well-tailored, well-balanced, and professionally launched operation.

They also noted with equal approval that President Reagan was backing away from his efforts to block the Siberian gas pipeline, and had also succeeded in getting his relations with mainland China back on the road opened up by Richard Nixon and traveled by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

It almost seemed over the past week that Washington foreign policy had suddenly become rational, coherent, orthodox - and professional.

It was the smooth professionalism of the new Middle East initiative that most impressed, and surprised, the diplomatic world. Clearly something new has been added to the foreign policy operation in Washington - that something presumably being the quiet, common-sense approach of the new secretary of state, George Shultz.

The story of how it was done began to surface during the past week. Here are some of the things that came out.

The details of the American position which the President set forth in his speech of Sept. 1 had been worked out after consultations with Arab leaders in the Middle East, with opposition party leaders in Israel, with leaders of the American Jewish community at home, and with the chief foreign policy experts of previous administrations. These included Henry Kissinger from Nixon-Ford days, and Zbigniew Brzezinski and Mr. Carter himself from the Carter era.

One result was that when the President spoke, a great deal of support had already been arranged, and came into view. Mr. Carter was in print the following day approving what the President proposed and contradicting the Begin contention that the ''new start'' was a departure from Camp David. On the contrary, said Mr. Carter, who was there, it accorded in every detail with the letter and intent of Camp David.

The disapproval of Moscow was, of course, not prearranged in Washington. But it was a welcome though unintentional assist. To have Moscow call the President's program ''pro-Israel'' helped to neutralize the Begin contention that it was unfriendly to Israel.

The planning included a surprise for Mr. Begin. A letter, giving details, went to him on Aug. 31. He was reported to be furious at not having had previous warning and not having been ''consulted.'' The reproach fell on deaf ears at the White House, which remembers painfully that Mr. Begin invaded deep into Lebanon without consulting Washington and continued the bombing of west Beirut well after the President had said publicly that he wanted the bombing stopped and that he had ''lost patience.''

Besides, said White House officials, if Mr. Begin is told of such moves in advance, he is liable to ''leak'' the facts and launch his own counter-propaganda operation before Washington gets moving. Mr. Begin in this case was surprised. There was the expected ''leak'' from his offices. His spokesman claimed that Camp David had been betrayed.

But the White House moved the Reagan speech up by one day. The President's proposals got the top headlines. Mr. Begin's objections came second. And, ever since, news of support for or interest in the President's plan has been keeping pace with Mr. Begin's attack on it. The Reagan White House is learning how to play the public relations game against Mr. Begin, a past master in this department.

What prospects for progress along the lines the President has now proposed?

Mr. Begin obviously has not the slightest intention of giving up his own plan , which calls for Israel in effect annexing all of the ''occupied territories.''

The Arabs under Mr. Begin's plan would end up in a condition much like that of the blacks in South Africa when squeezed into ''tribal homelands.'' The Arabs would have local control over their own fragmented communities but no true ''self-determination.''

This is the exact opposite of the intention of Camp David and of the new Reagan proposals.

Which concept will prevail?

Mr. Begin has the armed forces to hold control over the area. So long as he is prime minister, he will presumably keep a tight grip on all the occupied territories. And the White House has specifically renounced the idea of putting ''pressure'' on him by withholding weapons and aid.

But does that literally mean no pressure?

Once before Washington wanted a military withdrawal by Isreal. That was at the end of the 1956 Suez ''crisis.'' Israeli troops occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula. President Eisenhower wanted them back behind their prewar lines.

Mr. Eisenhower did not apply overt ''pressure.'' He did not cancel existing deliveries. He just refused to talk to any Israeli government official about such things as oil - until they pulled their troops back out of Sinai. They did.

In this case, Mr. Begin faces an immediate challenge in the Knesset. The cost of his invasion of Lebanon has been heavy. Israel will be wanting replacements for lost equipment and funds to keep its economy going. Mr. Reagan can afford to let time work inside the political fabric of Israel.

He is offering Israel a new chance to get peace with its Arab neighbors in exchange for territory. The urge for peace may grow inside Israel and among Israel's American supporters to the point where Mr. Begin will either give in or be replaced by a new leadership in Israel. Polls within Israel suggest this is already happening.

Meanwhile, Mr. Reagan has walked back from his hard-line stand on the pipeline affair. And the presence of Richard Nixon in Peking this past week testifies to the fact that US-China relations are back on track after the Taiwan detour of last year.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.