NEW YORK (Aug. 26)
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel declared today that the Middle East is on the threshold of a new era, now that the PLO “was defeated” by Israel and is evacuating Lebanon.
“I believe the next country in the Mideast to sign a peace treaty with Israel is Lebanon,” Sharon told an overflow audience at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He arrived here this morning on his way to Washington.
The Defense Minister said that a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon will change the Mideast and would create “a peace triangle” comprising. Cairo, Jerusalem and Beirut. Furthermore, Sharon said, “after the expulsion of the PLO terrorists from Beirut is completed, our chances for peaceful co-existence with the Palestinian Arabs in Judaea and Samaria are greater than ever.”
He reiterated Israel’s claim that the PLO did not represent the Palestinian people. In fact, Sharon contended, the PLO was an obstacle for negotiations between Palestinian leaders and Israel because the PLO “killed and murdered” any Palestinians who were willing to negotiate with Israel.
But, Sharon stressed, Israel does not want to negotiate with “collaborators” among the Palestinians but with Palestinian leaders “who want to negotiate a peaceful co-existence with Israel.”
The Defense Minister, who conceived and orchestrated the war in Lebanon and was praised for Israel’s military success during the operation was greeted by a standing ovation. His speech was also interrupted by applause several times.
Sharon said that Israel “managed to defeat the PLO terrorists not only militarily but also and mostly politically.” He said the expulsion of the terrorists from Beirut, currently underway, would end the ability of the PLO to operate its activities around the world, activities which were partly the source of its political power.
DEFENDS ISRAELI BOMBARDMENTS
Sharon defended the heavy Israeli bombardment of PLO strongholds in Beirut on August 5, 11 and 12, claiming that without military pressure “the PLO terrorists would not have agreed” to leave Beirut. He contended that until August 1, the PLO did not intend to leave Beirut at all. “They wanted to freeze the situation. But on the 5th of August we increased (the military) pressure and by August 6 they decided to leave.”
He said that the PLO could have left Beirut even three weeks ago had Israel not been pressured, apparently by the United States, against escalating its military offensive against the besieged terrorists. He said the “real change” was made on the night between August 12 and 13, when the PLO, under heavy Israeli bombardment, accepted the terms for withdrawal as presented by U.S. special envoy Philip Habib.
Sharon also defended his actions during the war, emphasizing that “from the first day to the last day of the war every action in the field was implemented as a result of (Israeli) Cabinet decisions.” Sharon was accused by the media in Israel and some unidentified Cabinet ministers that he acted on his own and ordered the heavy shelling of Beirut, notably on August 11 and 12, without consulting first with the government.
As a result of the heavy 10-hour bombardment of west Beirut on those days President Reagan called Premier Menachem Begin to express outrage and to stress that Habib could not complete his negotiations unless there was a complete cease-fire. Israel called a cease-fire as the two chief executives were talking.
SAYS U.S., ISRAEL SHARE COMMON GOALS
The Defense Minister said that in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon, Israel and the United States share “clear common goals and targets.” He listed them as “the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut; the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon–the terrorists, the Syrians and the Israelis; the need for security arrangements along Israel’s northern border; and the need to create a central government in Lebanon.”
Sharon also noted that as a result of the war, the influence of the Soviet Union has been reduced in the Mideast and, he added, “this is in the interest of all of us.”
Sharon also pointed out that there was “never a collusion between the United States and Israel on the war in Lebanon.” In fact, Sharon disclosed, the U.S. had urged restraint on the part of Israel when he met in Washington with U.S. officials just 10 days before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and warned them that Israel would react strongly if the terrorists continued their provocations against Israel.
Sharon bitterly rejected charges that the Israeli army killed civilians in Lebanon indiscriminately. He said Israel lost some 350 soldiers, mostly “due to our efforts not to harm the civilian population, which was kept as a hostage (by the PLO). They (the terrorists) held women and children in windows and doors” to protect themselves, he charged.
“No one can preach to us about the value of human life,” the Defense Minister said. He added that no army in the world, not even “the British and the Americans,” behaves with as much consideration to avoid harming civilians as does the Israeli army.
Sharon said the war in Lebanon was “a very complicated war, a very hard war. Israel Defense Forces deserve every praise for their effort to win the war.” Sharon, applauded by the audience, added: “They are the real cedars of Lebanon.” He said that in addition to the some 350 soldiers killed 2,000 Israeli soldiers were wounded.
While Sharon was speaking, a crowd of some 75 supporters of the PLO demonstrated outside the building where the meeting was taking place. The demonstrators carried slogans against Sharon and on behalf of the PLO. A small group of Israeli supporters demonstrated a few feet away carrying Israeli flags and placards against PLO terrorism. No incidents were reported.