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Washington Again Urges Restraint : U.S. Dispute With Israel Unlikely to Hurt Relations

December 24, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration repeated its appeal Wednesday for restraint by Israel in the use of deadly force against Palestinian demonstrators, but officials said that Jerusalem's angry rebuff of earlier American criticism will not be allowed to damage overall relations between the two countries.

"Order should be maintained without the use of lethal force," State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said. "Techniques are available to accomplish this, and we urge that they be employed."

But a State Department official said later that Israeli leaders have made clear, both in public statements and in private meetings with U.S. diplomats, that they have no intention of changing the rules of engagement for riot control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These rules permit the use of live ammunition against demonstrators armed with rocks and bottles of gasoline. At least 21 Palestinians have been killed and dozens more wounded by Israeli rifle fire in the last two weeks.

Oakley's statement, made at the start of the department's daily press briefing, was more temperate than the stern criticism issued Tuesday by the White House and State Department, in which they condemned Israel's "harsh security measures."

No Position Shift

Asked if Israel's rejection of the earlier U.S. appeals would tarnish the overall U.S.-Israel relationship, Oakley said: "We are friends; there is obviously no change in the American position on the substance of the issues, and our relationship remains firm and as it was."

Non-government experts in Middle East policy said that the exchange makes the United States appear impotent because it shows that Washington is unprepared to take any sort of action after Israel refused to heed the American appeal.

A State Department official said that Israel's rejection of the U.S. criticism had been expected. He conceded that the situation is extremely frustrating because it shows that Washington is unable to persuade Israel to change policies that, from the U.S. standpoint, are damaging to both the United States and Israel.

Joyce R. Starr, director of Near East studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, said that the United States must find some way to get its message across, despite a growing tendency in Israel to regard criticism as meddling and to consider all Arab protests to be the result of agitation by the Palestine Liberation Organization or Arab governments.

Although she said that she does not expect the United States to threaten publicly to withhold military or economic aid to Israel, Starr said that the tone of U.S.-Israel cooperation could be affected if the unrest continues much longer.

"The Israelis are waiting for many programs to go forward in the military-industrial field," Starr said. "These are crucial subjects. You don't communicate about these things publicly, but even if the United States never said a word, those projects are in jeopardy."

However, the Pentagon said Wednesday that the United States and Israel have reached an agreement for the joint funding of research and development of an anti-tactical ballistic missile system known as the Arrow. A spokesman said the agreement calls for the United States to pay 80% of the development cost of the project, which would be built in Israel and help bolster that nation's economy and its defenses against its Arab neighbors. The research and development cost was estimated at less than $140 million.

Not Productive, Haig Says

Former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said that the Administration's public scolding of Israel is counterproductive because it only strengthens Israeli hard-liners.

"You know damn well that when you get criticism in a democracy from a foreign government, even from the United States government in the case of Israel, then the leadership has got to respond in a manly way," Haig said during a breakfast interview with members of the Washington Bureau of The Times. He said that Israeli leaders had to reject the U.S. criticism or appear to be U.S. vassals.

"I say cool it," Haig said. "Give it a little more time and see what happens."

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