JERUSALEM (May. 11)
The Knesset opened debate today on the Israel Lebanon agreement. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir hailed it as a success and the best arrangement that could be made under the circumstances, paving the "way to peace and coexistence."
Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, accused the Likud government of mishandling the war in Lebanon and charged that Israel was less secure and in a worse political position now than when the war began more than II months ago.
The government is seeking Knesset approval of a statement on the agreement with Lebanon which it hopes can be signed by next week. Israel, which accepted the agreement in principle by a vote of 18-2 in the Cabinet last Friday, is seeking clarification of certain key points from the U.S.
The Lebanese Parliament has yet to ratify the accord. Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization have denounced it. The agreement, even if signed, would not become operative unless the Syrians and PLO agreed to pull their forces out of Lebanon.
SEEKING WIDE PARLIAMENTARY SUPPORT
Although Knesset approval is not required by law, the government is seeking the widest possible parliamentary backing for the accord which has become sharply controversial among Israelis on both the left and right wings of the political spectrum. The government, therefore, initiated a statement of approval to forestall a critical statement by the opposition. The vote is expected next Monday, after conclusion of the debate.
Today’s Knesset session was a short one because of celebrations marking the 16th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Shamir and Peres were the only speakers and their remarks were largely for the record. By the time the debate adjourned, only six MKs remained in the chamber. But Shamir’s defense of the agreement and Peres’ scathing criticism defined the points of view which are dividing Israelis on the issue.
‘THERE IS NO REAL ALTERNATIVE’
Shamir acknowledged that the accord, worked out by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz in two weeks of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Beirut, is "not yet a full peace but still an end to the state of war." He was referring apparently to the provision ending the state of belligerency between the two countries.
"Accept the agreement," Shamir declared."There is no real alternative. The alternative of a long Israeli occupation of south Lebanon is impossible and the Lebanese army itself is too weak to prevent the return of chaos to the security zone. Hence, the concept of the security arrangements agreed to, based on the demilitarization of the security zone to ensure that the PLO will not return there and the establishment of joint patrols with the Lebanese army in cooperation with Maj. Saad Haddad’s forces."
Shamir appealed to the Lebanese government not to be deterred from signing the agreement. Discussions are still going on regarding the clarifications requested by Israel "but signing the agreement will ensure the way to peace and coexistence," the Foreign Minister said. He assured Syria that the agreement is not aimed against any country. "The extremist statements from Damascus of late are baseless," he said.
Shamir warned that if the PLO and Syrians do not withdraw from Lebanon, "Israel will be free to act in its own interests." He said Israel’s withdrawal to the international boundary was conditional on the withdrawal of all foreign forces, the return of all Israeli prisoners of war and the return of the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in action.
PERES SAYS THERE IS NO VICTORY
Peres responded by noting that what had originally been intended as a three-day operation (the "Peace for Galilee" campaign) had become a 365-day war with very heavy casualties and no end in sight. He said Israeli soldiers are now spread out all over Lebanon, exposed to terrorist attacks.
"There is a war of attrition along lines our soldiers are not used to and the Russians are back in the area," Peres said. "The Syrians have suddenly found themselves with veto powers and the PLO is moving back into Lebanon."
According to Peres, the "end of the state of war" with Lebanon cannot be hailed as a victory because Lebanon has not really been in a state of war with Israel for 35 years, since the armistice agreements of 1949, beyond which the present agreement does not really advance.
Peres contended that present security arrangements are worse than before the war and during the fighting more Israelis died than in all the terrorist attacks from Lebanon in three decades. He said the government not only mishandled the war but made a mess of the negotiations which dragged on for seven months.
Peres proposed that Israel give Syria a deadline to respond to the agreement. He suggested June 5, the first anniversary of the start of the war in Lebanon. If they do not comply, Israel should withdraw unilaterally to the 28-mile security zone which would be easy to defend and fight a war of attrition. He said Haddad and an international force could then step in and enable Israel to bring its forces home.
CLARIFICATIONS UNDER DISCUSSION
Meanwhile, Israeli and American diplomats are discussing the clarifications Israel wants before signing the agreement. U.S. special envoy Philip Habib returned from Beirut last night and was scheduled to meet with Shamir today. Afterwards, the American and Israeli negotiating teams will hold a joint session.
The Lebanese Parliament has postponed a scheduled vote an the agreement while Israel seeks clarifications from the U.S., the Phalangist radio in Beirut reported today. The radio said Lebanese parliamentary leaders would discuss the agreement only in its final form, Israeli sources have been cautious in their comments about these developments for fear of further complicating the already explosive situation in Lebanon.
Israel and the U.S. apparently have agreed that the parties must reach a final understanding as quickly as possible so that the agreement can be signed next week. Once it is signed, Israel will leave it to the Americans to overcome the most serious obstacle — convincing Syria to go along.