JERUSALEM (Jul. 18)
Government officials were stem and bleak after a five-hour Cabinet meeting today, reporting “no progress at all” in the deadlocked negotiations in Beirut to conclude an agreement for the peaceful withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization forces from that city.
The official Cabinet communique said only that the Cabinet heard reports from Premier Menachem Begin, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon “on diplomatic and military matters and held a debate.” No other details of the proceedings were divulged.
The government officials seemed wary of the news from Washington that Secretary of State George Shultz, who was confirmed by the Senate by a 97-0 vote last Thursday and sworn into office the following day by President Reagan, is thinking of asking former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to undertake a mediation mission. (See related story, P. 2.)
“What can Kissinger achieve if the PLO is merely playing around and does not seriously intend to leave Beirut?” a high Israeli official asked rhetorically. “Habib is doing as well as he can. It’s not because of any lack of ability on his part that the negotiations are stalled.” Philip Habib, the U.S. special envoy, has been conducting the month-long diplomatic efforts in Beirut to get the PLO out of the city.
COOL REACTION TO KISSINGER SHUTTLE
Some observers felt the cool Israeli reaction to the prospect of a Kissinger shuttle stemmed from a realization that his presence in the area, with all the prestige and American involvement that he still carries, would inevitably curtail Israel’s ability to launch a military assault on Beirut against the beleaguered PLO if the talks continue to be stalemated.
The government officials insisted that the military option was still very much available, and they reiterated Begin’s warning last night at a massive rally in Tel Aviv that Israel was not prepared to wait 30 days for a peaceful settlement to be worked out. (Rally story, P.3.)
The officials confirmed that Begin referred in that comment to a statement made by Shultz during his confirmation hearings. They said, however, that Shultz seemed to speak of 30 days as the period during which the PLO men would actually evacuate — not the period still to elapse before an agreement is worked out. If that was the Secretary’s intent, then Israel could accept it, the officials said. Israel would be flexible regarding the duration of implementation of an agreement provided it was reasonable and provided the agreement was reached soon.
The officials denied a Maariv headline today that Shultz had strongly warned Israel’s Ambassador Moshe Arens at their meeting in Washington yesterday against Israel attacking west Beirut. According to the officials, the conversation had been “very good” and did not warrent the Maariv headline.
The officials, conceding they did not necessarily reflect unnanimous government thinking on the scheduled meeting Tuesday in Washington between President Reagan and the Foreign Ministers of Syria and Saudi Arabia, were openly skeptical that the meeting could clear the stalemate in west Beirut. They tended to doubt Habib’s view that the PLO would leave if only they had an Arab country to go to. Israel would not wait “indefinitely” if no Arab country were ready to take them in, the officials said.