Cabinet Expected to Consider Israel’s Options in Lebanon

The Cabinet is expected to consider Israel’s future options in Lebanon at its regular meeting next Sunday, in light of the continued statemate in the Israel-Lebanon military security and withdrawal talks in Nakura, informed sources here said today.

According to the sources, operative decisions will not be made at the Sunday session but they are “not far off down the road.”

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the Knesset today that the time is close at hand when the government will be called upon to make crucial decisions with regard to Lebanon.

Responding to six agenda motions on the matter, Rabin indicated that he had little confidence that diplomatic efforts now underway would break the impasse at Nakura, allowing the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Force from south Lebanon in the framework of an agreement with Lebanon.

Rabin spoke following a meeting of the 10-member “inner cabinet” on the subject of Lebanon. The deliberations were classified and no details were released.

UN DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS TO CONTINUE

Informed sources said today that even if Israel decided on a unilateral pullback of the IDF, diplomatic efforts by the United Nations would continue as long as the UN Secretariat felt there was any hope of success. UN Undersecretary General Brian Urquhart is due here over the weekend.

Nevertheless, senior Israeli policymakers seemed to agree with Rabin’s downbeat assessment of the prospects of a negotiated accord with Lebanon. The Nakura talks resumed Monday, after a two-week Christmas-New Year recess. No progress was reported and Defense Ministry officials and senior IDF officers concluded that it would be pointless to hold another meeting this week.

No date was, in fact, set for the next meeting of the Israeli and Lebanese negotiating teams. If the pre-recess pattern was to be continued, the two sides would meet again tomorrow. But Israeli sources indicated after Monday’s session that even if the Lebanese sent their delegation to Nakura Thursday, the Israelis would not be there.

ISRAEL WAITING FOR LEBANESE REPLY

The Lebanese have given no satisfactory reply to Israel’s proposal. The key issue is Israel’s insistence that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)–which is sponsoring the Nakura talks–take over responsibility for security in south Lebanon between the Zaharani and Awali rivers after the IDF withdraws. The Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) would patrol the region from the Litani River to the Israeli border, according to Israel’s wishes.

But the Lebanese do not recognize the SLA and insist that the only role for UNIFIL is to oversee the IDF’s withdrawal. They claim their regular army is capable of maintaining security in the south. The Israelis are convinced it cannot.

The motions submitted in the Knesset today on what steps Israel should take next in Lebanon showed a wide divergence of opinion. Labor MK Simcha Dinitz and Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM), both counselled an early and complete withdrawl of the IDF. Likud-Herut MK Uzi Landau and Yuval Neeman, leader of the rightwing Tehiya Party, urged resistance to the Lebanese, the Syrians and to the pro-withdrawal forces at home.

STEPS TO THAW THE ‘COLD PEACE’

Meanwhile, first steps are being taken to thaw the “cold peace” between Israel and Egypt. Officials of both countries will meet in Beersheba next Tuesday for three days of talks aimed at solving the border dispute over Taba, a three acre strip of beach on the Gulf of Aqaba which both countries claim.

The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979 provides for arbitration of such disputes if they cannot be resolved through bilateral diplomacy. The issue has been in abeyance since Egypt recalled its Ambassador from Tel Aviv during the Lebanon war two years ago. Resumption of the Taba talks is seen as a step toward improving Israeli-Egyptian relations.

When the two sides meet at Beersheba a week from now, they will have on their agenda a compromise proposal which would have Taba patrolled by soldiers of the Sinai-based multinational peacekeeping force until agreement is reached on the final status of the territory.

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