A senior Israeli official urged the Reagan Administration on Monday to shake its election-year lethargy and propose "new ideas" to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process because the region is becoming increasingly violent and dangerous.
"I don't believe that we can afford paralysis," Yossi Belin, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, told a small group of reporters at the Israeli Embassy. "The question is what is going to be the price of doing nothing. Keeping the status quo for 1 1/2 or two years is unrealistic."
Belin, who is in Washington to meet with high-level Administration officials, said it is futile to expect either Israel or Jordan to take the initiative because the level of mutual mistrust is so high that "if (Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Shamir suggests something that is beautiful, the king (of Jordan) will say that is nothing new . . . and vice versa."
Election Seen as Block
That means, he said, that only the United States can push the peace process off dead center. But, he said, U.S. officials have said that nothing much can be done until after the U.S. elections in November and Israeli elections expected earlier in the year.
"Nothing was done in '87, and (U.S. officials say) nothing will be done in '88 because of the elections," he said. "I believe we can't stick to that way of thinking. We can't let '88 pass without a political development even though it will be much more difficult because of the elections."
Secretary of State George P. Shultz and other Administration officials have become increasingly frustrated at the failure of Israel and its Arab neighbors to narrow their differences, despite sometimes intense U.S. intervention. U.S. officials also have expressed irritation at the failure of Israeli government leaders to agree among themselves on an approach to the Arab world. The government is an uneasy coalition of the right-wing Likud Bloc and the centrist Labor Alignment.
U.S. officials have said privately that there is not much Washington can do without initiative from the region. Belin maintained that the Administration has it backward--Israel and Jordan cannot be expected to settle their differences without U.S. guidance.
"The involvement of the United States in the past two decades was much more important than ideas proposed in the Middle East itself," Belin said.
Belin is to meet today with Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, White House national security adviser, and Richard W. Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs.
He conferred Monday with the chiefs of Israeli consulates around the United States. It was understood that he called the meeting to instruct the diplomats on ways to repair damage to Israel's image caused by press and television coverage of Israeli soldiers beating, tear-gassing and sometimes shooting Palestinian demonstrators during the continuing protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But, in his meeting with reporters, Belin said that the disturbances have done no irreparable damage either to the American public's perception of Israel or to Jerusalem's relationship with the U.S. government. Unlike some Israeli officials, Belin did not claim that the press had exaggerated the situation.
"Eventually the problem that we have to face is that the ground in the (occupied) territories was right for being influenced by the (Palestine Liberation Organization) or the (Muslim) fundamentalists," he said.
Belin said it is important for the Administration to continue putting forward new ideas for a Middle East settlement even if the proposals seem to lead nowhere.
He said that a proposal to invite Israeli and Jordanian leaders to attend last month's Washington summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev "wasn't the best idea--maybe it was impossible from the beginning." But, he added, "it was a new idea. Such ideas should be put forward."
The summit-at-the-summit plan was accepted by Israel but rejected by Jordan.