Two Mideast hard-liners show readiness to bargain; Lebanese Phalangist willing to drop ties to Israel
Washington — The visiting Lebanese apoligized for the delay at the start of an interview. He explained that a Syrian "hit team" was out to get him, thus disrupting his schedule.
That was one of the few hints Bashir Gemayel, military leader of the militant Christian Phalangists in Lebanon, gave of the violence which he had left behind in his homeland. Gemayel, often described as a hard-liner when it comes to the troubles of Lebanon, has been in Washington for the past week, making a pitch as a peacemaker.
The husky Gemayel, who has been to Washington before, said that he found that the Reagan administration had a better understanding of the Lebanese situation than did the previous administration.
He confirmed that his Phalangist Party is willing to break its ties with Israel as part of an effort to get Syria to withdraw its Army from Lebanon.
The Phalangists have been receiving weapons and training from the Israelis for several years now. A well-organized force to be reckoned with, they have fought against the Palestinians and the Syrians as well as against some of the other Christian factions.
Gemayel's Phalange draws its support almost entirely from the Maronite Christians, who form the largest of Lebanon's six Christian sects. The Maronites have traditionally dominated the country, both economically and politically. Bashir Gemayel's father, Pierre, was the founder of the Phalangist Party. But while the Christians were once in the majority in Lebanon, this is no longer the case. An influx of Palestinians and the growth of the Muslim population has made them a minority.
Bashir Gemayel's aim at the moment is to help bring about the withdrawal of the Syrian Army from Lebanon. State Department officials say the US agrees that the Syrians should withdraw. But some officials think that Gemayel's Phalangists helped set off the recent round of heavy fighting in Lebanon by provoking the Syrians.
Gemayel denies this. He says that the Syrians were trying to bring the town of Zahle, and by extension, the entire Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, under their control.
Some Palestinian groups claim that a tacit US alliance with the Phalange may be in the making. But State Department officials say they were careful not to give this impression to Bashir Gemeyel during his visit here. One official asserted that there had been no change in Lebanon policy.
But Mr. Gemayel said that he found that the Reagan administration's assessment of the role of the Soviet Union in the Lebanon crisis was closer to that of the Phalange than was the Carter administration's assessment. The Phalange considers both the Syrians and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to be surrogates of the Soviet Union. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. recently declined, however, to characterize the PLO as such.
Mr. Gemayel said that the Phalange had accepted weapons from the Israelis in 1975-76 because their situation was desperate. This did not make them beholden to the Israelis, he said.
"In 1975-76, when the Syrians and the Palestinians tried to corner us and destroy our independence, no one came to help us beside some friends in the area ," he said.
"We are not the agents for anyone," he said. "We have been receiving help from anyone who decided to help us. We want to remain a part of the Arab world."
"If the Syrians and the Palestinians will leave us alone and let us live in peace, we will not need the weapons."
Gemayel said that the Syrians had sent a 12-man hit team to kill him in the US. Gemayel's 18-month-old daughter and two of his bodyguards were killed in a bomb blast against his automobile in 1980.