JERUSALEM (Jul. 5)
A showdown over west Beirut appeared imminent today as Israeli forces tightened their grip around the besieged Palestine Liberation Organization stronghold. The Cabinet yesterday rejected without reservation the latest PLO proposals for their departure from the city. Scattered fighting continued around Beirut and to the south and east of the Lebanese capital. Seven Israeli soldiers were wounded in the last 24 hours. (See separate story.)
The Cabinet issued a non-committal communique with respect to an attack on west Beirut after its regular weekly session late yesterday afternoon. Unofficial reports said the ministers had decided to allow more time for the negotiations now proceeding in Beirut, an indication that the Israelis believe U.S. special envoy Philip Habib has made some progress. (See story P.3.) But the communique stressed that Israel’s goal remains unchanged and unalterable — the total departure of the PLO and its leaders from Beirut and from Lebanon.
The statement said “The Cabinet unreservedly rejects any proposal regarding any (residual) presence of the PLO, political, organizational or military-symbolic in Lebanon … All the terrorists must leave Lebanon … There will be no change in the present lines in Lebanon without Israel’s agreement.” The latter indicated that Israel would accept no proposal to withdraw its forces any distance from Beirut as a condition for PLO withdrawal.
WILL NOT WAIT INDEFINITELY FOR DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION
Before the Cabinet convened yesterday morning, sources here warned that the ministers would not be prepared to continue indefinitely with the present diplomatic efforts unless they discerned genuine progress in Habib’s negotiations with the Lebanese authorities. During the course of the session, Premier Menachem Begin took time out to meet with a delegation of the top Labor Party leaders.
Emerging from that meeting, Labor Alignment chairman Shimon Peres told reporters he was optimistic for two reasons. The diplomatic negotiations are continuing, he said and “A more or less agreed position is evolving among those handling the negotiations … that the terrorists must leave Beirut and then leave Lebanon; that the Syrians must withdraw. Then the Israel Defense Force must withdraw too and an independent Lebanese government must be set up,” Peres said.
He added that “The negotiations have reached a point where the chances of agreement are augmented.” Peres said the Labor Party would support the government in pursuing the negotiations to a “satisfactory” conclusion. But he refused to say whether Labor would support the government if the negotiations failed and the government resorted to “other means” to oust the PLO from west Beirut.
“Today, the issue is the negotiations and I don’t have to go beyond that,” Peres said. He stressed that the only ones “who can bring tragedy to the negotiations and to Beirut are the PLO.” He said he hoped they would listen to reason.
EX-TELEM MK JOINS CABINET
Meanwhile, the Cabinet approved the appointment of MK Mordechai Ben-Porat of the defunct Telem party as a Minister-Without-Portfolio. Ben-Porat and his Telem partner, former Finance Minister Yigal Hurwitz, joined Begin’s Likud coalition after voluntarily dissolving Telem, a faction founded by the late Moshe Dayan.
Their entry into government ranks restored Begin’s one seat majority in the Knesset which he lost when Likud MKs Amnon Linn and Yitzhak Peretz defected last May. The government is reported to be courting the ultra right-wing Tehiya faction to enter the coalition fold. Tehiya solidly supports the war in Lebanon.