Reagan’s Offer to Act in Lebanon Generates Optimism in Israel

The optimism generated here by President Reagan’s agreement in principle to “contribute a small contingent” of American troops to assist in the withdrawal of Palestine Liberation Organization forces from west Beirut was not dissipated today by the resurfacing of obstacles still holding up a final agreement.

Israel’s Cabinet held a long session in the morning and ministers emerged saying they were hopeful of a peaceable solution to the problem of the beleaguered PLO forces trapped by the Israel Defense Force in west Beirut. There was no substantive official statement issued and a top Israeli aide, Foreign Ministry Director General David Kimche, was reported to have gone to Beirut to report to U.S. envoy Philip Habib on the Israeli Cabinet stance.

As reported earlier in the week, the two obstacles that still seem to impede a settlement are: the PLO’s demand that it keep a political office in Beirut, and the PLO’s demand that two small Palestinian army units stay in Lebanon, in the areas under Syrian control, and withdraw only at a later stage, together with the Syrian and IDF forces.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman, Uri Porat, reiterated today the Cabinet’s Sunday decision rejecting both of these demands. Nevertheless observers here continue to believe that if these are the sole remaining problems to be resolved, solutions will some how be found.

Labor Alignment leaders made it clear at a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today that their party would not support IDF military action against west Beirut if these two PLO demands were the only remaining obstacles and the main body of the PLO agreed to leave the city without a fight.

IDEAS AND PROBLEMS

One idea that has been aired during the week was for the PLO to set up its desired political office in the north Lebanon town of Tripoli, thus remaining on Lebanese soil but not in the much more sensitive spot, Beirut.

The situation of another problematic issue — the PLO’s demand for a partial IDF pullback from Beirut in the first stage — was not known. Israel has said it will not pull back until the PLO withdrawal from Beirut has been accomplished.

Conceivably the entry of U.S. forces into west Beirut and also of French troops — with the con-commitant implied U.S.-French guarantee of the PLO’s exit — would enable Israel to soften its stand on this point and agree to a partial withdrawal earlier than it otherwise intended.

Israeli officials do not conceal their reluctance to approve a direct French role in the proposed Beirut withdrawal. Jerusalem has been deeply disappointed by Paris’ stand during the war in Lebanon, and its efforts to save the PLO.

But the Israeli officials recognize that the U.S. is extremely reluctant to send its troops into Beirut without a broader “multinational” framework. Since. France, with its own strong and traditional interests in Lebanon is apparently eager to play a role, Washington plans on a French batallion alongside the U.S. forces, giving the venture its “multinational” character.

Israel Radio reported after today’s Cabinet meeting that the French are seeking a UN aegis for their proposed role in Beirut. This no doubt would make Israel even more dubious about the French participation.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that the exiting PLO men would head firstly to Syria — to the port of Latakia if they are taken off by ship — and from there would presumably spread out among the Arab states. Israeli officials note wryly that most Arab states have expressed outright reluctance to receive the ousted PLO men.

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