TEL AVIV (May. 17)
Israel and Lebanon signed their agreement on troop withdrawals and security today and got a pledge of “firm” support from the United States, a co-signator.
There were two signing ceremonies, the first, at 9 a.m. local time at Khalde, a Lebanese town just south of Beirut, and three hours later, at Kiryat Shemona, an Israeli town on the Lebanese border where, as in Khalde, many of the negotiating sessions leading to the agreement were held.
David Kimche, Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who headed the Israeli negotiating team, signed for Israel. Antoine Fatale, chief of the Lebanese delegation signed for the Beirut government. U.S. special Ambassador Morris Draper added his signature on behalf of the United States. All three made it clear that this was not a formal peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon but nevertheless a major step on the road towards peace.
Draper noted that both parties had fought hard during the five months of negotiations for their national aspirations and requirements. “But in the process of meshing these aims, both countries found they had many goals and aims in common, including an enduring and friendly relationship between them,” he said.
Draper added that it was fitting that the U.S. was present to witness the signings. “The U.S. is a warm and reliable friend of both countries. It is not only a witness to this accord but will remain a firm supporter of the understandings which have been reached,” the American diplomat declared.
The signings followed the endorsements of the agreements by the Lebanese and Israeli parliaments yesterday. The Lebanese Parliament unanimously approved the accord. The Knesset registered its approval last night by a vote of 57-6 with 45 abstentions (not 55-8 with 46 abstentions as initially reported.)
‘A NEW CHAPTER IN OUR HISTORIES’
Four copies of the agreement were signed today –in English and French, the official versions, and in Hebrew and Arabic. Three of the signed copies are for Jerusalem, Beirut and Washington and the fourth for the United Nations archives in New York.
Kimche said at the signings, “The signatures are just the beginning of a new chapter in our histories. Many obstacles still stand in our paths and there are many who would wish to render the agreements meaningless … But you cannot go against the will of the people” of Lebanon and Israel.
He stressed that Israel’s final withdrawal from Lebanon is contingent on the departure of all Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces from that country and the return by Syria of all Israeli prisoners of war.
The understanding of the conditional nature of Israel’s pledge to withdraw was affirmed in sideletters from the U.S. to Israel and Lebanon which are part of the agreement. Fatale, speaking in French, noted that “The agreement is not perfect, but then perfection belongs to God only.”
Much of the agreement and its annexes deal with security arrangements in south Lebanon where Israel and Lebanon will establish a Joint Liaison Committee with U.S. participation. The Lebanese army to be stationed in the south Lebanon security zone will be limited to two brigades with their normal equipment.
Anti-aircraft or ground-to-sea missiles are excluded, as is radar capable of scanning Israeli territory. The security provisions provide for direct radio and telephone communications between the Israeli and Lebanese military commanders and face-to-face consultations.
According to the annex of the agreement, “Within 8 to 12 weeks of the entry into force of the present agreement, all Israeli forces will have been withdrawn from Lebanon. This is consistent with the objective of Lebanon that all external forces withdraw from Lebanon.
“The Lebanese armed forces and the Israel defense forces will maintain continuous liaison during the withdrawal and will exchange all necessary information through the Security Arrangements Committee. The Israel defense forces and the Lebanese armed forces will cooperate during the withdrawal in order to facilitate the reassertion of the authority of the government of Lebanon as the Israeli armed forces withdraw.”
The annex also states: “Three months after completion of the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon, the Security Arrangements Committee will conduct a full-scale review of the adequacy of the security arrangements delineated in this annex in order to improve them.”
A MAJOR ACHIEVEMENT FOR DIPLOMACY
The signings today represented a major achievement for diplomacy in which the U.S. played an overriding and probably decisive role. The final accord was reached after two weeks of strenuous shuttling between Jerusalem and Beirut by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz.
But as Shultz himself stressed, Israel and Lebanon had by then reached agreements in principle on most points during the months of negotiations in which Draper and U.S. special envoy to the Middle East Philip Habib participated.
Both Kimche and Fatale had fulsome praise for Draper and Habib. But despite the satisfaction expressed by all parties with the achievement consummated today, the fate of the agreement clearly depends on whether Syria will agree to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.
Damascus exerted severe pressure on the government of Lebanese President Amin Gemayel to reject the accord with Israel on grounds that Israel gained politically and militarily from it.
Fatale, in his remarks today, stressed that Lebanon remained faithful to its commitments to the Arab world but it required an end to warfare if it is to rebuild a country shattered by seven years of civil strife. He referred pointedly to the fact that Syria itself reached an accord with Israel in the form of the 1974 disengagement agreement on the Golan Heights.