JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
There has been “certain progress” in the talks between Israel, Lebanon and the U.S., Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and David Kimche, head of the Israeli negotiating team, told the Cabinet yesterday. But Israel is highly skeptical of Syria’s intention to pull its forces out of Lebanon and has conveyed its doubts to the U.S.
There were indications of Israeli flexibility with respect to its future presence in Lebanon. It is no longer talking of early warning stations in south Lebanon manned by Israeli troops but rather of observation posts after all foreign forces have withdrawn from the country.
On the other hand, no progress has been made toward normalization of relations between Lebanon and Israel. The Israelis insist on full normalization immediately whereas the Lebanese say this must be a gradual process.
Shamir told the Cabinet yesterday that according to his information, Syria does not intend to pull out of Lebanon. He said he raised the issue when he met with U.S. special envoys Philip Habib and Morris Draper in Herzliya last Friday. Israel demands hard evidence of a Syrian commitment to withdrawal, Shamir said and Habib is going to Damascus this week to try to get it.
(The State Department said last week that it was “not true” that Habib has set April 3 as the target date for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. But Department spokesman John Hughes said the U.S. continues to view with a sense of “urgency” the need for a complete pull-out of Israeli, Syrian and PLO forces.)
NEW CONTROVERSY BREWING
Meanwhile, a new controversy boiled in Israel over the Cabinet’s majority decision to retain Sharon as a member of the Ministerial Defense Committee and of the Ministerial Steering Committee for the negotiations with Lebanon. Sharon was forced to resign as Defense Minister after the Cabinet accepted the recommendations of the commission of inquiry into the Beirut refugee camps massacre.
The proposal to keep Sharon on the two key Cabinet committees came from Premier Begin. Mordechai Zipori, Minister of Communications, cast the only dissenting vote. Deputy Premier David Levy and several other ministers abstained. Only six voted in favor of Begin’s proposal but they constituted a majority.
The Labor Alignment and the Shinui Party promptly denounced the decision as a contravention of the inquiry commission’s intent and demanded that the issue be brought before the Knesset. The opposition parties contended that Sharon would continue to have a negative influence on Israel’s foreign and defense policies from his position on the Ministerial Defense Committee, exactly what the inquiry panel sought to prevent.