Israel, US disagree over major issues on Mideast agenda
Jerusalem — United States-Israeli relations are strained by a fundamental strategic dispute over virtually every issue on the Arab-Israeli agenda: Lebanon, the West Bank, the whole concept and timing of Mideast peace.
* As the US sees it, Israel is dragging its feet in Lebanon, consolidating its presence there, and sabotaging a unique opportunity to settle the Palestinian homeland problem.
* As Israel sees it, the US is asking Israel to give up territory in Lebanon - and later in the West Bank and Gaza - with too little in exchange.
''There is a basic difference in the way we see Middle East issues,'' an Israeli official said Tuesday. Though on global strategy the US and Israel are in ''98 percent agreement,'' he criticized the US State Department for having what he called an ''unrealistic'' view of the Middle East.
In the month-old negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, the US has been seeking to restore full sovereignty to Lebanon and remove all foreign forces. If Israel's Army leaves, Syria and the Palestinian guerrillas remaining in Lebanon also promise to go. The US, moreover, wants to win this agreement without jeopardizing Lebanon's important political and economic ties to the Arab world through too-cozy relations between Lebanon and Israel.
In the long term the US wants Israel to freeze settlements in the occupied territory and prepare to negotiate with Jordan - and with Palestinians in the Jordanian delegation. The negotiations would be toward ''self-rule'' for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza ''in association with Jordan.''
On the Lebanon issue, the Israeli government wants to station its troops in the south of that country, either as regular forces or as observers, and wants something very close to a full peace treaty and normalized relations with Lebanon. Moreover, Menachem Begin's government is adamant about its right to settle Jews on the West Bank and rejects the granting of broad ''self-rule'' to Palestinians.
The strain between Israel and the US has even shown itself on the ground, where Israeli soldiers and American marines have been involved in several tense confrontations. Israeli Gen. Amir Drori on Jan. 24 criticized the US marines for failing to prevent guerrilla infiltration from the US sector of Beirut through Israeli lines and back again.
An Israeli official characterized the marines as ''afraid to get their hands dirty for fear of casualties.'' He said marines are not scrupulous about examining cars at road checkpoints. An arrangement to minimize contact between Israelis and marines was announced Jan. 25 by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who said the Israelis henceforth would stay east of the old Beirut-Palestine rail line.
One of the consequences of these Israeli complaints may be to build a case against entrusting security in southern Lebanon to the marines and to other troops in the multinational force once the Israelis pull out. The Begin government is maintaining that only by allowing Israeli troops to staff outposts in Lebanon can Israel be sure security is strictly enforced.
On the question of the scope of Israeli-Lebanese negotiations, several Israeli officials told the Monitor that in numerous conversations with their Lebanese counterparts they have become convinced that Lebanese government and business leaders desire close relations with Israel. Israeli officials complain the US is counseling Lebanon to remain aloof from Israel to protect against conservative Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, withholding vitally needed reconstruction aid.
The official Israeli government position on Lebanon is that Israel ''has never had, nor hasn't today, any territorial claims on that country.''
Besides differences over the Lebanon negotiations, an Israeli official sees other indications of an American hard line. He notes reports from Washington that the Reagan administration may be more serious today about applying economic pressure on Israel. He also cites US envoy Philip Habib's alleged hints that President Reagan is losing patience with the slow-moving Lebanon negotiations and might consider imposing a settlement.
Israel contends that the US, by distancing itself from Israel, is trying to maneuver into better position to act as a broker in a future Arab-Israeli settlement along the line of the Sept. 1 Reagan plan. The Arab bloc at least is seeking US movement in this direction: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently warned the US not to forget that it ''has other friends in the area, not only Israel,'' and that failure to win a troop pullout from Lebanon would be a ''black spot'' on Washington's ability to mediate a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Israel has shown frequently in the past that, although small, it can veto any American Mideast plan simply by not going along. If the talks on Lebanon drag on until next fall, the US will find itself in a presidential campaign and pressuring Israel will be tricky political business.
Meanwhile, the Begin government stands firmly against handing over West Bank territory to Jordan or giving residents enough freedom to pose even the remotest security threat to Israel. A Begin associate says: ''As we see it, Palestinians here will enjoy more freedom and democracy than anywhere else in the Arab world, but you are not going to see them get the right to bring Russian missiles into Judea and Samaria or to call in the (Jordanian) Arab Legion.''
To believe that Israel will pull out of Lebanon without strong security guarantees or that it will allow control of the West Bank and Gaza to slip from its grasp is ''a whole misconception,'' the Israeli official argued. ''You don't necessarily find this misconception in the White House but in the State Department. But it is a mistake to believe that you can appease the Arabs by putting pressure on us.''