JERUSALEM (Dec. 28)
Israel and Lebanon began their long awaited negotiations today, with the United States as an active participant, aimed at establishing a framework for future relations. The delegates of the three countries met at the Lebanon Beach Hotel in Khalde, a seaside resort just south of Beirut. The talks will shift Thursday to Kiryat Shmona, an Israeli town close to the Lebanese border.
Lebanon is the second Arab state to enter into formal negotiations with Israel. The heads of each delegation made opening statements for the benefit of the world news media, after which the session was closed to the press and both sides began working on an agenda. Discussions of substantive matters are expected to begin at Thursday’s meeting.
The chief of the Lebanese delegation, Antoine Fatale, a senior aide to President Amin Gemayel, stressed, in his opening remarks, his country’s desire for the early withdrawal of all foreign forces from its soil.
David Kimche, Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who heads Israel’s negotiating team emphasized Israel’s desire for a relationship of “good neighborliness” with Lebanon and its hopes that the current talks would result in an accord “but a step away from a full, final, formal peace treaty.”
SEES BASIS FOR OPTIMISM
U.S. special envoy Morris Draper spoke of his government’s “sympathy and support for many of the key objectives of the parties. ” He mentioned specifically the restoration of Lebanon’s territorial integrity and Israel’s insistence on security arrangements.
Draper, who holds the rank of Ambassador, said there was a good basis for optimism since Israel has declared repeatedly that it has no territorial claims on Lebanon and wants to pull its forces out of that country. Lebanon for its part, has pledged not to allow its territory to become again a base for hostile actions against Israel, Draper said.
SUBSTANTIAL DIFFERENCES APPEAR
But substantial differences between the Israeli and Lebanese viewpoints were apparent from the outset, though they were expressed in polite and friendly terms. Fatale made it clear that his country could not step out of line with the rest of the Arab world and take separate initiatives in establishing a relationship with Israel.
He spoke of Lebanon’s strong desire for peace, security, sovereignty and integrity. “The first step” toward this goal must be the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country as speedily as possible, he said. But he also spoke of Lebanon’s “historic mission within the Arab nation.”
Kimche hailed the meeting as “an auspicious occasion” for the Middle East and, for him, personally, the culmination of several years of close involvement in developments in Lebanon. He said he was sure that all three delegations and their governments, “want to see the two peoples (Lebanese and Israelis) living in peace.”
Israel wants to see Lebanon restored to full sovereignty, integrity and security, Kimche said. Israelis have “no feelings of enmity” towards Lebanon, a country with which it had never engaged in military hostilities. He said the recent “military effort” by Israel was not against Lebanon but against the “terrorists” who had used Lebanon as a base for aggression against the will of the Lebanese people.
The Palestine Liberation Organization military infrastructure in Lebanon had been “a danger” to both Lebanon and Israel, he said. Now that it has been removed, there is “nothing to prevent … good neighborliness … friendship and security.”
ISSUE OF 1949 ARMISTICE ACCORD
The discord that arose between Kimche and Fatale concerned the issue of whether the 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Lebanon is still valid. Fatale insisted that it was. He read from Article 8 which states: “This agreement … shall remain in force until a peace settlement between the parties is achieved.”
Fatale refuted the claim made in 1967 by Israel’s then Foreign Minister Abba Eban that Lebanon had voided the armistice by warlike statements before and during the Six-Day War.
Kimche, in response, digressed from his prepared text to “take issue with the honorable delegate from Lebanon.” He claimed that Lebanon, in 1967, had “declared its association with the Arab armies” and had refused to meet with Israeli representatives “saying a state of war exists.” Worse still, according to Kimche, Lebanon later signed the Cairo agreement with the PLO “allowing the terrorists to establish a state within a state.”
In any event, Kimche said, Israel hoped the present negotiations would produce an agreement that would render the 1949 armistice accords irrelevant. Israel hoped for an accord that would be “but a step away from a full, final and formal peace treaty which we would wish to see come about” in the future.
Observers noted that the legalistic argument over the validity of the 1949 armistice could have an important bearing on the current talks. Israel wants them to produce a declaration of non-belligerency by the two states. The Lebanese appeared to be saying that there is no need for such declaration since the armistice is still in effect and its key article pledges the two sides not to resort to armed force.