Washington (May. 21)
Richard Stone, a former Democratic Senator from Florida, who is now an international lawyer in Washington, proposed today that Lebanon be made the center of Middle East negotiations since all the “actors” in the Arab-Israeli conflict are already involved there. He said that Philip Habib, President Reag
an’s envoy now in the Mideast, has been able to prevent a war from breaking out over Lebanon and should be put in charge of Mideast negotiations.
Stone made his suggestion for what he termed the “Habib option” while appearing on National Public Radio’s “National Town Meeting.” Also appearing on the program, which was broadcast live from Kennedy Center here, were James Akins, a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Ghassan Tueni, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
Tueni and Akins claimed that a settlement of the Palestinian problem is vital to settling all other problems in the Middle East. But Tueni noted that the presence of some 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon had created “a Lebanese question which has become as acute as the Palestinian question.”
He said that Lebanon is a country where all other “external conflicts” in the Mideast are being played out and Lebanon has become a “sideshow, a convenient dumping ground for all other conflicts in the region.”
Tueni noted that Israel and Syria had agreed to extend the mandate for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, which showed him that they wish to avoid a war across their common border. But, he said, the two countries are willing to fight in Lebanon.
OUTLINE STEPS TOWARD PEACE
Stone said he agreed with the Reagan Administration’s position which seeks to prevent the Soviet Union’s further penetration in the Middle East. Akins said that while the Soviets pose a threat, the only dispute in the Middle East that actually endangers American interests is the threat of an Arab-Israeli war. Tueni said that when war comes to the Mideast, the Arabs draw closer to the Soviet Union but when peace is a better prospect, they move toward the United States
Stone said Israel had proved its willingness to give up much for peace. He noted that, in the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel gave up all the land it held in Sinai, its air bases, and even the oil fields which could have left Israel energy-sufficient. He said Israel is willing to return land on the West Bank in return for secure and recognized borders but not to the pre-1967 borders. But he said peace will not come until other Arab leaders take as bold a step as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem.
Akins maintained that peace is possible if there is a change of attitude on both sides, including statements by the Palestine Liberation Organization. But he said the PLO and the Arab countries have already expressed their willingness to recognize Israel if Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders.
Tueni said that unless Israel showed a willingness to solve the Palestinian problem, then neither the Lebanese problem can be solved nor can Israel be secure. Stone said that if the PLO wants to demonstrate its willingness to live in a demilitarized state, it can start in Lebanon.