JERUSALEM (Dec. 3)
Israeli officials indicated they would welcome the return to the region of United States Middle East envoy Richard Murphy–or a higher level U.S. emissary — to boost the flagging negotiations between the Israeli and Lebanese military delegations which held another meeting today in Nakura.
While officials here seemed pessimistic as to the prospects of progress in that forum, under the auspices of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Israeli delegation emerged from today’s seventh session since the talks began last month expressing greater satisfaction and said some progress had been made.
Maj. Yona Gazit, the delegation’s spokesman, said the Lebanese had abandoned their “declaratory approach” and dealt today with specific issues about which military units should be stationed at which places. Israel in turn, promised to consider the Lebanese proposals and comment on them at the next meeting.
This assessment appeared in contrast with last week’s meeting which broke up in an acrimonious exchange between the two sides. Gen. Amos Gilboa, head of the Israeli delegation, said he was “fed up” with the Lebanese’s constant reiteration of unacceptable demands. A Lebanese spokesman accused Israel of deliberately wanting the talks to fail in order to remain in control of south Lebanon through surrogates.
The Israeli and Lebanese military teams seek to work out an agreed formula for security arrangements to protect Israel’s northern border once the IDF withdraws from south Lebanon. A central issue is the role of UNIFIL.
Lebanon wants the UN force to patrol immediately north of the border while Israel would like this area to be maintained by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA), which is not recognized by the government in Beirut. Lebanon wants UNIFIL as the main defense against terrorist infiltration into Israel.
NEED ‘A PUSH FROM THE OUTSIDE’
Meanwhile, in indicating that they would welcome outside help in the ongoing talks, officials here believe that the negotiations will not make progress without “a push from the outside” — in this case from the United States.
The officials are wondering whether the ultrahardline positions adopted by the Lebanese delegation in the previous sessions reflects Syrian input — or rather a breakdown of communications between Damascus and Beirut.
The latter explanation fits better with the fact that it was Syria which ensured, despite internal Lebanese opposition, primarily from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Nabih Berri, the Shiite leader — both of whom are Cabinet ministers — that the Nakura talks were launched in the first place.
The Israeli officials noted that Murphy, an Assistant Secretary of State, has not been back to the region since the U.S. Presidential elections early last month, though it had been thought that he would provide a parallel “backchannel” diplomatic dialogue between Jerusalem, Beirut and Damascus while the formal military talks in Nakura continued.
The United States has repeatedly said it has no intention of assuming a mediator’s role as long as the positions of the principal parties — Israel, Lebanon and Syria — remain far apart. Officials here who suggested a high level figure other than Murphy, appear to refer to Secretary of State George Shultz, although a return visit by him to the region after his efforts on behalf of the May 17, 1983 Israel-Lebanon agreement seem unlikely. Beirut abrogated that agreement, bowing to Syrian pressure.