Cabinet Agrees to Modify Israel’s Terms for Talks with Lebanon

The Cabinet agreed today to modify Israel’s terms for negotiations with Lebanon for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from that country and security arrangements north of the Israeli border. Israel will no longer insist that the talks be on the ministerial level.

But the resolution adopted by the Cabinet affirmed an earlier decision that the negotiations must be of a political as well as security nature and that the two teams be headed by duly appointed civilian officials. It also specified that the talks must take place in Beirut and Jerusalem, the respective capitals of the two countries.

COMPROMISE PROPOSED BY BEGIN

The resolution was Israel’s response to the latest terms proposed by the Lebanese government which were brought here from Beirut by U.S. special Ambassador Philip Habib last Thursday. The compromise over the level of the talks was proposed by Premier Menachem Begin after 10 of his Cabinet ministers balked at demands by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Israel adhere to its original terms.

They were backed by Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan who attended today’s Cabinet session. He observed that Israel had won all of its wars militarily and this time it should reap the political gains. Had that been the case in the past, the political situation would be much different, Eitan said.

The compromise agreed to was seen here as meeting the Lebanese halfway. Beirut, however, has already announced the appointment of a Brigadier General to head its negotiating team, which would also contain some ranking civilians. Habib suggested, at his meetings here last Thursday that the talks be held outside the two capitals, in places such as Halde, just south of Beirut, and Maale Hahamisha, a kibbutz near Jerusalem.

He apparently was reflecting the Lebanese position on venue.

Habib arrived in Cairo today for talks with Egyptian leaders. He was in Amman yesterday to meet with King Hussein of Jordan about recent Middle East developments and the status of peace efforts in the region. U.S. Embassy sources in Amman said President Reagan’s Mideast initiative and the Arab peace plan adopted at Fez, Morroco figured prominently in the talks. They also discussed Hussein’s scheduled visit to Washington next month, the sources said.

The U.S. sources stressed that Habib did not meet with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat who also arrived in Amman yesterday to see Hussein. Reagan’s plan, announced last September 1, proposed that the West Bank and Gaza Strip be governed by Palestinian in association with Jordan. Arab participation in negotiations over the plan appears to hinge on whether Arafat will agree that Hussein serve as spokesman for Palestinian interests in negotiations with Israel and the U.S.

But the PLO’s Central Council, a 60-member consultative group issued a statement in Damascus Thursday night denouncing the Reagan plan for Palestinian self-rule because it specifically rejected a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PLO group claimed the American position does not “satisfy the inalienable national rights of our people.” But it did not say the Reagan plan was unacceptable in its entirety, as the most extreme elements of the PLO insist.

(In Washington, the State Department had no immediate comment on the Council’s statement on Reagan’s plan. Department spokesman John Hughes said the U.S. would first have to study the full text of the Council’s statement. However, Hughes said that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had given the PLO “sound advice” last Thursday when he urged it to recognize Israel even if Israel would not recognize the PLO.

(“There is no doubt that the willingness to recognize Israel” and the acceptance of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 “are essential first steps to be taken by anybody that wishes to promote the peace process” and to pursue “Palestinian rights,” Hughes said.)

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