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The United States and Israel: when friends fall out

When friends fall out, the question is not whether - but how - the underlying fact of friendship will be brought to the surface again. Thus it must be after the past week's severe strain on the ties between Israel and its best friend in the international community, the United States. The way toward restored relations lies in steps to be taken by both parties in the aftermath of American and world reaction to Israel's annexation of the occupied Golan Heights.

* The United States needs to sustain its firm and nonhostile encouragement of a negotiated solution to the Golan Heights matter. The US risked widespread criticism at the United Nations to work for a Security Council resolution that stopped short of directly condemning Israel while declaring the annexation null and void. The US managed to win inclusion of at least implicit recognition of Israel's right to secure borders. It got ''necessary'' measures changed to ''appropriate'' measures in the call for future action depending on Israel's response to the resolution.

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All this was in the spirit of President Reagan's Thursday news conference remarks indicating not only disappointment over the annexation but long-standing support of Israel. Nothing is gained by the descriptions of the US's subsequent actions as displaying ''anger.''

These actions included suspending implementation of the recent US-Israel memorandum on strategic cooperation. Though skeptics questioned the long-term meaning of the steps, they were a signal to Israel of what appears to be growing sentiment in the United States: that US-Israel relations are a two-way street. They should be based not only on mutual friendship and strategic interests but on Israeli observance of international law, which is important to everyone including the US.

Washington spoke calmly but directly in its statement about the US actions. It is the right tone of voice for continuing the effort to restore US-Israeli relations on a proper basis.

* Israel, for its part, needs to return to a similar reasonable course of conduct and discussion. The fulminations from Prime Minister Begin and others about the US actions can hardly represent the Israeli people's feelings about the US. If they do, the friendship is not as deep as advertised all these years. But many Israelis themselves are said to be as much opposed to the Golan annexation as most outsiders are. And enduring friendship remains there to be tapped as much as Americans' friendship for their fellow democracy in the Middle East.

For the Israeli government to say the cooperation memo is now canceled may be no great diplomatic loss: presumably US and Israel cooperation on genuine mutual strategic interests never depended on a piece of paper anyway. But the accompanying defiance was of a kind that will take some work for even the best of friends to get over.

No one seems to expect the boldly statesmanlike step of rescinding the Golan legislation. But a beginning on the road to international acceptance and renewed American relations could be made by cooling the rhetoric and demonstrating again the cooperative spirit that allowed the steps previously achieved toward Mideast peace.

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