Jerusalem (Jul. 21)
The prospects for a cease-fire on Israel’s northern border seemed to improve tonight following a lengthy Cabinet meeting here and talks between Premier Menachem Begin and U.S. special envoy Philip Habib. Israeli officials told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after these meetings that Israel was prepared to hold its fire if the other side stopped shooting.
(United Nations sources in New York and Palestine Liberation Organization sources in Beirut indicated that PLO chief Yasir Arafat had given virtually the same undertaking at his meeting yesterday with Gen. William Callaghan, commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.)
Israel publicly reiterated its refusal to negotiate directly or indirectly with the PLO, and its determination to defend its citizens who were being threatened by PLO guns and rockets fired from inside Lebanon.
STATEMENT BY THE CABINET
Begin, reading the Cabinet’s statement to reporters, noted first that he had reported to the ministers on his earlier talks with Habib and on “personal messages” received from U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig. The Cabinet statement said:
“The government agrees that Mr. Habib embark upon contacts with the President of Lebanon Mr. (Elias) Sarkis and the government of Lebanon with the aim of establishing peaceful relations between Israel and Lebanon from where the terrorist organizations incessantly attack the territory of Israel and murder and maim its citizens.
“The government of Israel will under no circumstances conduct negotiations directly or indirectly, with the Arab terrorist organizations whose declared aim is the destruction of Israel and its people and who intentionally turn their arms, supplied to them in large quantities by the Soviet Union, Libya and Syria, against the Jewish population.
“Likewise the government of Israel does not authorize anybody to conduct negotiations with the aforementioned organizations. The government will continue to defend the citizens of Israel. This is its right and its duty.”
STATEMENT BY HABIB
Habib, for his part, read a statement to waiting reporters following his meeting with Begin saying that: “On the basis of the statement by the government of Israel I will proceed with my mission as directed by President Reagan to seek to secure a cease-fire along the Israeli-Lebanese border as a first step to bringing calm to the area.”
Israeli officials said the upshot of the two statement: was “that Habib can negotiate a cease-fire.” They said he could talk with Lebanese, Saudi Arabian and Syrian leaders but not with the PLO.
But political observers noted that the U.S., the UN and other states are known to be in private or public contact with the PLO and that the PLO’s consent will plainly have to be procured for a cessation of shooting along the border. UN sources told the JTA that the UN’s efforts were reported through its headquarters in New York to the U.S. government.