JERUSALEM (Oct. 7)
Israeli officials predicted “tough and probably protracted” negotiations for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon today after U.S. special envoy Philip Habib returned to Washington to report to President Reagan and special envoy Morris Draper returned to Beirut after a lengthy meeting Tuesday night with Premier Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.
An official statement issued by Begin’s office, after the meeting with Draper said Israel and the U.S. agreed in principle that Israeli and Syrian forces should pull out of Lebanon simultaneously, either in stages or all at once. But American sources here would not confirm this and refused to take a public position on any of the substantive issues.
In fact, there appeared to be substantial differences between the Israelis and Americans on such key matters as the timing of the Palestine Liberation Organization pull-out from Lebanon and arrangements for a security zone north of Israel’s border to ensure that the PLO would not return. Those differences and reported Syrian resistance to the principle of simultaneous withdrawal apparently gave rise to the feeling here that the talks will be hard and long.
Israeli sources reported that Draper told Begin that President Hafez Assad of Syria rejected the idea of simultaneity on grounds that the Syrian army had entered Lebanon in 1976 at that country’s request with the backing of the Arab League as a peace-keeping force whereas Israel’s army invaded the country. Assad would not agree, therefore, that the two armies be “equated” with respect to their withdrawals.
OTHER PROBLEM AREAS CITED
The Israeli sources also listed two other problem areas. Begin demands that the PLO be removed as the first step in advance of the Israeli and Syrian pull-outs. There are on estimated 5,000 PLO combatants deployed behind Syrian lines in the Bekao Valley in eastern Lebanon and between 1,000-1,500 others in the northern coastal city of Tripoli.
Begin cited the ambush attack that killed six Israeli soldiers and wounded 22 near Aleh village east of Beirut last Sunday as further proof of the urgency of getting all PLO forces out of Lebanon.
But Israeli sources have indicated privately that the U.S. does not seem to support Begin’s demand for a prior withdrawal by the PLO. There are signs that Israel might soften its stand if concrete arrangements can be made to ensure that the PLO and the Syrians leave Lebanon at the same time.
Begin does not subscribe to the view-expressed by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir in New York earlier this week that the PLO would automatically withdraw from Lebanon if it is deprived of Syrian protection against the superior forces of the rightwing Lebanese Phalangists.
Begin suspects that the Syrians and pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon, notably the Christians belonging to the clan of former Lebanese President Suleiman Fronjieh, might try to set up PLO enclaves in northern Lebanon after the Syrian and Israeli armies departed. The PLO and its backers would then be in a position to influence Lebanon’s internal politics, the Israelis fear.
The second major problem is Israel’s demand for a security zone of some 40 kilometers depth north of the Israeli border to make sure the PLO never returns to that region. Shamir has already informed United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez deCuellar that Israel opposes extension of the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mandate when it expires in two weeks. Israel also opposes the replacement of UNIFIL by a multinational force.
Israel would clearly like to see the Lebanese army take responsibility for the security zone, preferably through Israel’s closest Lebanese ally, Maj. Saad Haddad who heads the Christian militia in south Lebanon.
ISSUE OF AN OPEN BORDER
Israeli officials are also speaking of an open border between Israel and Lebanon, even in the absence of a formal peace treaty between the two countries. Although a peace treaty was one of the stated objectives of Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, it is not now a realistic prospect in view of recent developments. But Israeli authorities want to continue to have free access to Lebanon to monitor conditions at first hand.
The issue of south Lebanon has not yet been thrashed out between Begin and Sharon and the two American special envoys. But there are signs that the U.S.’ does not go along with Israel’s wishes there. According to reports from Washington, Habib will not return to the Middle East for the time being unless a new crisis erupts. Draper, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, will remain in the region to conduct the negotiations.