Israelis welcomed Washington's appointment of a special envoy to work full time on the peace process out of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. Senior Israeli officials said privately that the appointment Tuesday of Wat Cluverius IV demonstrated that the Reagan administration is stepping up its efforts to bring about Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Israel issued no official statement on the appointment of Mr. Cluverius, who will be senior adviser on policy matters to the United States' Mideast envoy, Richard Murphy.
The State Department said the special envoy position was being created in an effort to ``sustain the movement'' the US detects in the Jordanian and Israeli positions toward peace negotiations.
Israel, in a series of moves that began several months ago, has been angling toward opening at least ``preparatory'' talks with a Jordanian-Palestinian team on autonomy for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The team would include as its Palestinian members residents of these areas who are not members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Of special interest to the Israelis is the fact that Cluverius, as US consul general in Jerusalem, has been in almost daily contact with West Bank Palestinians.
``It means the Americans are putting their finger on the West Bank,'' said one senior official who spoke on condition he not be named.
Cluverius, who became Jerusalem counsul general in 1983, was described by one US diplomat as having more experience in the Middle East peace process than any other foreign service diplomat now active. Besides serving in diplomatic posts in Saudi Arabia, Tel Aviv, and Bahrain, he was closely involved in Israeli-Egyptian peace talks and has close relations with senior Jordanian officials.
``They need somebody on the spot to go from place to place and feel out the little nuances of changes in positions,'' said a Western diplomat. ``They wanted somebody who knew all sides and has been intimately involved with the peace process.''
Western diplomats in Tel Aviv describe as ``overly optimistic'' the views of some Israeli officials that preliminary talks between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian team have been all but agreed to by the Jordanians. Problems remain to be worked out, diplomats close to the process say, and the US hopes that Cluverius will be able to iron out differences by shuttling between the capitals.
For months, both Israeli and Arab officials have complained that the US has failed to take an active enough role in promoting the peace process. The US argued that its hands-off policy was forcing the parties to come forward and narrow the considerable gaps in their positions for starting peace talks.
What has encouraged the Reagan administration to step up its involvement are the speeches delivered first by Jordan's King Hussein and then by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres before the United Nations General Assembly. The Americans feel the King is determined to press on with his peace initiative despite setbacks caused by the recent cycle of regional violence.