Israel Pondering Elements in Its Agreement with Lebanon

Israeli circles were pondering today whether all of the provisions in the agreement just signed with Lebanon are contingent on the withdrawal of foreign forces from that country. Some Israeli legal experts insist they are not.

The agreement will be ratified by the Israeli and Lebanese governments once there is a formal exchange of the “instruments of ratification.” But Israel has made it clear, in secret accords with Lebanon and the U.S. and in the public statements of its officials, that Israel is not required to pull its forces out of Lebanon until Syria agrees to a simultaeous withdrawal of its own forces and those of the Palestine Liberation Organization. So far Damascus has fiercely rejected the Israel-Lebanon accord and has given no indication that it will pull its army out of Lebanon.

The U.S. is currently engaged in diplomatic efforts to induce the Syrians to cooperate. Special Ambassador Philip Habib is in Beirut to assist in those efforts and was due to go to Damascus. But according to Damascus Radio, the Syrian government said yesterday that Habib would not be received.

NO DEADLINE FOR SYRIAN COMPLIANCE

As long as this uncertain situation persists, the Israelis are keeping a low profile. They have set no deadline for Syrian compliance but have made it clear that Israel will not wait indefinitely. ” We are not talking in terms of days, but neither of weeks,” a ranking Israeli official told reporters after the agreement with Lebanon was signed in Kiryat Shemona Tuesday.

In the interim, however, it remains unclear whether the parties intend to mark time or to proceed with implementation of those parts of the accord not directly related to the withdrawal process.

According to the legal experts here, an obvious example is Article I of the agreement in which Israel and Lebanon “confirm that the state of war … has been terminated and no longer exits. ” The experts say it would be illogical and spurious to argue that if there is no withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon the “state of war” would be resumed between the two countries.

A similar question concerns the provision for a “Joint Liaison Committee” of Israel and Lebanon to begin working as soon as the instruments of ratification are exchanged. While many of the committee’s functions are security related and therefore contingent on the withdrawal of forces, others — the maintenance of an Israeli liaison office in Beirut, for example and the “development of mutual relations between Israel and Lebanon” — are not.

There are of course many provisions in the agreement that are meaningful only in the context of withdrawal, such as security arrangements and the limitation of forces in south Lebanon. But prima facie, the Israel-Lebanon agreement signed this week is a valid international document regardless of what happens in terms of the withdrawal, Israeli sources say.

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