WASHINGTON (Aug. 29)
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel stressed here this weekend that the Middle East is on the verge of a new era of peace with the military and political defeat of the PLO and asserted that Israel has not been at war with the Palestinian people but with the PLO terrorist organization.
Addressing 600 delegates attending the North American Leadership Conference of the Israel Bond Organization last night at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Sharon also defended his strategy in Lebanon and asserted that it had been approved by the Cabinet every step of the way.
ASSAILS MEDIA REPORTS
He was particularly caustic in his remarks about the way the news media had inflated figures of civilian casualties in Lebanon during the “Peace for Galilee” operation which began June 6, while forgetting the number of casualties Israel suffered during the many years of PLO terrorist activities. He said there were some 2,000 civilian casualties in Lebanon and that 350 Israeli soldiers were killed and 2,000 wounded during the “Peace for Galilee” operation.
Sharon rejected media reports that 600,000 Lebanese civilians had been left homeless as a result of the Israeli action. He said this was baseless because the total population of southern Lebanon is 625,000, and many villages were not touched by Israel’s military operation. Sharon said that between 1975 and 1982, the PLO killed 110,000 Lebanese civilians and wounded more than 300,000,mostly Christians. “No one said a word,” Sharon declared, “and only one small nation, Israel, came to their rescue.”
The Defense Minister compared that number of dead to the 55,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam which, he said, caused an “earthquake” in the United States. He added that Israel “made a tremendous effort to secure lives” in Lebanon, “but people must remember that the PLO used the civilian population as hostages …they kept women and children at the doors and the windows to make it harder for our troops to move in.”
Sharon said Israel’s largest casualties were not caused in the fighting against Syrian tanks, or against sophisticated Soviet SAM missiles, but in the fighting along the coastal plain where the terrorists held the civilian population hostage.
He told the Israel Bond leaders that “there was no collusion between the United States and Israel when we went into the war,” as many have charged. However, now after the war, Israel and the U.S. share “common targets and goals: expulsion of the PLO, withdrawal of foreign forces — the terrorists, Syrians and Israeli troops. We would like to bring our troops home as early as possible.” Another goal, Sharon said, would be “peace between Israel and Lebanon and the necessary security arrangements along our northern border.”
ISRAEL LEARNED SECRET OF SOVIET MISSILES
Sharon said “one of the real contributions of the war was that the Israelis learned the secrets of the Soviet SAM missiles and we eliminated the main center of world terrorism in Beirut….We brought the situation to where it will enable us to build a strong central government.” He added: “I believe we are facing peace with Lebanon. I believe we are going to start a renewed dialogue with the Palestinian Arabs.”
Sharon reiterated many of these points today in interviews on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” program and on ABC-TVs “This Week With David Brinkley” program.
There was tight security around the hotel where Sharon was speaking. Outside the hotel three demonstrations were held. Most of the protesters were members of the November 29 Coalition, representing nearly 100 groups, including some Jews, who opposed Israel’s action in Lebanon. Placards protesting Israel’s invasion of Lebanon were waved by about 50 members of American Jews Opposed to the Invasion of Lebanon. A counter-demonstration of about 30 members of the Zionist Organization of America and Americans for a Safe Israel gathered to support Israel and Sharon.
Police said one demonstrator was arrested for disorderly conduct and a second was cited for a minor traffic violation during the three-hours of the protest, marked mostly by shouting.
MEETING WITH SHULTZ, WEINBERGER
On Friday, Sharon met for 45 minutes with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, a meeting that was described later as “cordial” by the Pentagon. After meeting with Weinberger, Sharon met for almost two hours with Secretary of State George Shultz.
Emerging from his meeting with Shultz, Sharon told reporters “I had a good meeting” with the Secretary of State,” discussing the situation in the Mideast, after the expulsion of the PLO terrorists from Beirut which is taking place now. I believe that we are facing a new era now in the Mideast. We are much closer to overall peace.”
Sharon added: “We believe that that expulsion, which is a result of the political and military defeat of the PLO terrorist organization, will enable us to start negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs. We have not been fighting with the Palestinian people. We have been fighting the PLO terrorist organization.”
Looking to the future, Sharon said: “We hope to live in peaceful co-existence, and I believe the present situation will enable us to start negotiations on the autonomy plans of the Camp David accords … We hope to have a peace agreement with Lebanon.”
Sharon, in response to a question, said that he started talks with Palestinian leaders two days earlier. He said he was proud to talk and negotiate with the Palestinian Arabs because for years they were threatened by the PLO … many of them were murdered, assassinated by the PLO only because they believed that the PLO was not the only and sole representative of the Palestinian Arabs.”
CITES THREE-PHASED ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL
Asked about Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Sharon said that “we are now in a phase of the expulsion of the terrorists from Beirut.” The second phase, he suggested, would be the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. He pointed out that Syria still occupies 40 percent of Lebanon Then, Sharon said, would come the third phase, where “we hope we will be able to sign a peace agreement with Lebanon which will bring a complete change in the situation in the region and would give the needed security measures of Israel along its northern border.” He said after Syria pulls out its forces from Lebanon Israel will withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
WEINBERGER TO VISIT MIDEAST THIS WEEK
Meanwhile, the White House announced that Weinberger will visit Lebanon, Israel and Egypt this week, the first Cabinet-level officer to visit the area since the outbreak of the war in Lebanon His trip was decided last Thursday by President Reagan. Administration officials said it was Weinberger’s idea to visit the 800 marines in Beirut who are there together with 800 French and 532 Italian troops to oversee the evacuation of PLO terrorist and Syrian forces from the city.
Officials added that while in the area to accept a long-standing invitation to visit Israel, he will also visit Egypt to balance the trip to Israel. Administration officials added that Weinberger was not charged with any particular diplomatic mission.
EGYPT PUTS DAMPER ON AUTONOMY TALKS
In Egypt, Weinberger is expected to focus on the fate of the long-stalled Palestinian autonomy negotiations with Israel. But Egypt has ruled out further autonomy talks until Israeli troops leave Lebanon and Israel halts building settlements on the West Bank.
This declaration was made last Friday in a letter by Amre Moussa, acting head of Egypt’s delegation to the United Nations, to UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cueller. The letter called on the U.S. “in particular” to urge Israel to adopt a new course and “prepare the ground for a fair and just settlement” in the Mideast. The U.S. has been seeking for some time to get the autonomy negotiations off dead center.