WASHINGTON (Feb. 24)
President Reagan cautioned Israel yesterday that it cannot “go on forever living as an armed camp” and said its security depended on “the same kind of relationship” with its neighbors as it has now with Egypt.
The President spoke at some length on the Middle East during a question-and-answer session with about 50 newspaper editors, reporters and columnists invited to breakfast at the White House. In the course of his remarks he spoke of the need to provide “something in the nature of a national home” for the Palestinian people. But he promptly qualified that by asserting that “no one has ever advocated creating a nation.”
The President said he was “a little surprised at the wind that started blowing” when he pledged that the U.S. would guarantee the security of Israel’s northern borders after Israel withdraws its army from Lebanon. He made that offer Tuesday in a speech to the American Legion convention here during which he emphasized that it was urgent for “Syria, the PLO and Israel to withdraw their forces from Lebanon in the shortest possible time.”
Asked yesterday to amplify on his offer to guarantee Israel’s security, Reagan stressed: “This is not anything different than has been said before by me and by several Presidents before me, that this country has always maintained that it has an obligation to the security of Israel.”
But, he added, in this particular instance I was answering the question. And I thought I made it plain that I was talking about the withdrawal — that in the aftermath of that withdrawal, we are prepared to guarantee their (Israel’s) safety on the northern border.”
The President declined to offer any specifics as to how the U.S. would act to guarantee the security of northern Israel. He asserted, however, that “We, in consultation with our allies in the multinational force, would be prepared — until Lebanon was actually stabilized and able to guarantee this safety — we would be willing to enlarge the multinational force. This is of course, in consultation with our allies…”
ISSUE OF THE WORD ‘HOMELAND’
Considerable attention was focussed an the President’s use of the word “homeland” with reference to a solution of the Palestinian problem. White House officials said it was consistent with the Middle East peace initiative Reagan proposed last September I which called for Palestinian self-government on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in association with Jordan. Israel rejected the Reagan proposals immediately.
This week, the Palestine National Council (PNC) meeting in Algiers, declared the Reagan plan “unacceptable” because it failed to recognize Palestinian self-determination and opposed a Palestinian state.
But the President seemed unfazed by those reactions. He told the reporters at the White House breakfast, “I don’t take too seriously the statement of positions in advance of negotiations. Everyone wants to preserve their position at their highest price before negotiations.”
He added, however, that “The Palestinian problem has to be a factor in the solution. We cannot go on. That’s been the biggest problem now for a number of years. We cannot go on with these people in not providing them something in the nature of a homeland. On the other hand, no one has ever advocated creating a nation. And so I just believe that, as I say, that you wait until you get to the (negotiating) table.”
The President asked rhetorically, “What is at stake for Israel? The stake is security. Can they go on forever living as an armed camp? Their economy’s suffering. They have 130 percent inflation rate. And they’re having to maintain a military presence that is out of all proportion to their size as a nation. And so the great security for Israel, and this is what’s back of our plan, is to create new Egypt, more nations, more neighbors that are willing to sign peace treaties with them.”
He added: “Now, Israel proved its willingness to negotiate and to comply with things that weren’t, certainly, appetizing to them in the giving up of the Sinai to Egypt. Well, what we’re looking to is the same kind of relationship with most of their neighbors. Maybe not all the Arab states will be moderate. Maybe some of them will still continue to be holdouts. But I believe there’s real evidence that the more moderate Arab states do want peace and this would involve recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”
Israel’s outgoing Ambassador to the U.S., Moshe Arens, termed Reagan’s remarks yesterday a “repeat maybe in somewhat different verbiage” of his earlier position. Arens, who returns to Jerusalem this week to take office as Defense Minister, reiterated Israel’s contention that the Palestinians already have a state, “Jordan.”
Arens paid a farewell visit to the President yesterday. He told reporters afterwards that Reagan had conveyed to him “a sense of urgency” over the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and repeated his offer to guarantee the security of northern Israel.