The Lebanon Crisis: Talks Continue As Problems Grow

Despite the shooting in and around Beirut today, talks went ahead, directly and through diplomatic channels, on working out a peaceful solution to the problem of the Palestine Liberation Organization presence in the Lebanese capital. Israeli sources spoke of “high-level” U.S.-Israeli contacts during the day.

The U.S., it is understood, was upset by the forcefulness and specificity of the Israeli Cabinet decision yesterday “flatly ruling out” any residual PLO presence in Beirut and Lebanon, whether “military-symbolic” or “political-organizational.”

The Israeli decision referred to demands that a political office of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) be attached to the Lebanese army. There are such Palestinian units attached to other armies in the Arab world. While Washington is at one with Jerusalem in opposition to any residual military presence of the PLO, the Americans are understood to believe that Israel cannot justifiably oppose a PLO “political office” in Beirut, given that there are such offices in more than 80 world capitals.

Inside Israel, moreover, the opposition Labor Party is known to feel strongly that the government ought not to make this issue of a political office the casus belli that could lead to bloodshed in Beirut. But government spokesmen insist that a political office staffed by PLO men in Beirut could quickly grow again into a military installation. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir noted in a weekend radio interview that the PLO “does not distinguish between the political and the operational aspects” of its activities.

Premier Menachem Begin, addressing 150 Joint Israel Appeal leaders from Britain last night, also reiterated that Israel wanted all of the terrorists out of Lebanon. He looked forward to the day when Israel’s forces too would be able to evacuate Lebanon. “We hope it will come soon,” he said.

Even if the problem of the office can be overcome much detailed negotiating remains to be done regarding a PLO withdrawal. One idea under consideration is for a staged withdrawal, with some of the PLO men pulling back to Tripoli, the largely Moslem town in northern Lebanon, and leaving Lebanon from there at a “later” stage.

NO ARAB COUNTRY WANTS PLO MEN

One major problem that Israel can do little to help solve is that of the PLO’s destination. None of the Arab countries have shown enthusiasm at the prospect of absorbing the estimated 6000 PLO men in west Beirut.

It had been thought that Algeria would take them in but Morocco has objected strongly to that, apparently out of fear that the terrorists would join the Palesario guerrilla movement. Muamar Qaddafi’s Libya has recommended to the PLO in Beirut that it fight to the death, and plainly does not see itself as their safe haven.

Egypt too–to the open relief of Israeli officials — has backed off from an earlier idea that it might receive the PLO men from Beirut. Now, according to reports from Cairo, the Egyptians are prepared to take only the PLO leaders, not the thousand of rank-and-file fighters.

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