JERUSALEM (Jun. 23)
Premier Menachem Begin returned from the U.S. today claiming that he had gained the support of the Reagan Administration for Israel’s objectives in Lebanon. He said the proof of this was President Reagan’s public endorsement of two key principles: the need for all foreign forces to leave Lebanon and the need for a buffer zone in south Lebanon to protect Israel from future attacks.
Begin defined “foreign forces” as the Syrians, armed elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israeli army. But Begin’s first words to Israeli and foreign reporters after he landed at Ben Gurion Airport at noon were that “never has the great American Jewish community been more united behind the State of Israel, the ‘Peace for Galilee’ operation and the government’s policy than it is today.” He said he had stressed that to Administration officials.
The Premier also spoke at length of the stormy meeting he had yesterday with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington where many Congressmen known to be friendly to Israel questioned him sharply on Israel’s conduct of the war in Lebanon and its policies on the West Bank.
Begin said he told Reagan at their White House meeting Monday that Israel wanted to withdraw from Lebanon as soon as possible by which he meant as soon as “arrangements are made” to ensure the removal of any PLO threat to Israel’s northern towns and settlements and to the entire country. He also claimed he had achieved a “deep understanding” in his meetings with Secretary of State Alexander Haig which encompeted “Israel’s positions, its role in the Western “Camp and its requirements.”
OPPOSES EXPANDING UNIFIL
Begin said he had stressed to Reagan and other Administration officials Israel’s opposition to an expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on grounds that any force under UN authority “cannot be objective.” He said he had noted in that connection that more than half of the current members of the Security Council “do not even have diplomatic relations with Israel.”
Begin said Reagan was “considering” U.S. participation in a multinational force to patrol a south Lebanon buffer zone which, from Israel’s standpoint would be desirable. “But we do not demand anything,” Begin said, adding that a multinational force could be set up without the participation of American forces.
He said Reagan began their conversation by saying he had “expected” the Israel-Lebanon-PLO issue to be resolved by diplomatic means. “But I explained the developments to the President … As a result I think he understood, the proof being his statement to the press” endorsing a buffer zone and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon.
Begin also said he tried to persuade the Administration and public opinion that the Western media were “biased” in reporting the war in Lebanon. He singled out the American electronic media and some of the press which, he alleged, published civilian casualty figures “put out by Arab organizations” to the effect that the Israeli action rendered 600,000 people homeless. He claimed the true figure was 20,000. He insisted that the figure of 4000 civilians killed in the Israeli attacks on Tyre was a “tenfold exaggeration.”
CONGRESSIONAL MEETINGS CALLED ‘BENEFICIAL’
Begin called his session with the Congressmen before his departure from the U.S. yesterday “very good, beneficial, and even warm.” He said the “troubling” questions he was asked did not offend him. He said one member of the Senate committee praised Israel’s action in Lebanon and “One young Senator, who made the best speech I heard in a long time, ” praised the Lebanon operation but castigated Begin’s West Bank policies and urged a cut in U.S. aid because of it.
Begin said he had responded to this by observing that aid “is not a one-way street” and claimed that Israel’s incursion into Lebanon aided U.S. interests. He said he also reminded the Senator of his “solemn pledge” that no threats would ever extract concessions from Israel.
Senators who participated in the give-and-take session with Begin were quoted today as saying it was the toughest exchange American lawmakers ever had with a foreign head of government. Sen. Paul Tsongas (D. Mass.), a consistent friend of Israel, said, “Never in my eight years in Washington have I ever seen such an angry session with a foreign head of state.”
Sen. Larry Pressler (R. S.D.), said, “This is the first time I have seen such a confrontation between the Prime Minister of Israel and Senators in terms of head on disagreement. He is taking question after question and just hitting them head on. He is not budging an inch.”
The most bitter exchange was reported between Begin and Sen. Joseph Biden (D. Del.), another prominent friend of Israel who, though not critical of the Lebanon campaign, urged Israel to halt its policy of establishing new settlements on the West Bank. He said that policy was costing Israel support in the U.S.
Israel’s policies were defended by Sens. Daniel Moynihan (D. N.Y.), S.I. Hayakawa (R. Calif.) and Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.). Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.) observed, “I think anytime you have a conflict of this magnitude it puts a strain on friendships, but I don’t think there will be a permanent dislocation.” Nevertheless, Begin’s confrontation with the key Senators involved in U.S. foreign policy indicated to many observers on erosion of support for certain of Israel’s actions and policies.
CLUSTER BOMB USE QUESTIONED
Some of the legislators seemed disturbed by Israel’s use of American weapons in its invasion of Lebanon, especially cluster bombs which have a devastating effect on civilians. Begin reportedly said he was not aware that cluster bombs were used but would ask Defense Minister Ariel Sharon when he returned to Israel.
At the airport today, Begin made no reference to the immediate issue occupying Israel and world attention — Israel’s intentions regarding Beirut, where Palestinian and Syrian forces are holding out. The Cabinet agreed yesterday to observe a new cease-fire after one arranged over the weekend broke down. But there were reports of renewed fighting this morning. The Cabinet decided Sunday, over Sharon’s objections, not to send Israeli forces into west Beirut to root out the PLO remnants there.
Begin said he would brief the Cabinet tomorrow on his American trip. “I know there are still exchanges (of fire) and we are suffering casualties,” he said. “We want to put an end to all this bloody episode and to make peace between ourselves and Lebanon and bring our soldiers home. We will do so when peace is ensured for the Galilee and for the whole State of Israel,” he said.