In keeping with long Jewish tradition, many Israelis are reportedly displaying the kind of humane spirit needed on all sides to salvage long-term peace from present devastation in Lebanon. They are organizing and supporting relief for the immense civilian tragedy in the wake of their government's full-scale invasion of the country next door. Some question the appropriateness of the military venture in relation to Israel's defense needs against Palestinian or Syrian threats from over the border. Some question whether their government should be trying to influence the kind of postwar government to emerge in Lebanon instead of leaving this to the Lebanese.
It is to be hoped that Prime Minister Begin responds to such concerns now that he has returned from the United States with President Reagan's general accord on Israeli goals in Lebanon. Mr. Reagan himself was said to be deeply concerned that hostilities be ended and humanitarian actions speeded. He can play a role in forestalling future conflict by following through on his reported hopes for a new degree of energy and emphasis on the Mideast peace process.
With the US economy as a dominating issue, Mr. Reagan has not offered the leadership on the Middle East that the United States is particularly equipped to give. Recently he has been allocating more time and attention to the subject. Now he has the opportunity to accompany his support for Israel with encouragement to Israel to seize the occasion for constructive compromise on the issues that would otherwise threaten further turmoil.
For example, the defeat of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon is not going to end PLO and other Palestinian efforts for long-deferred self-determination. From its position of strength Israel could show enough movement in this direction to gain moderate Arab cooperation. Enlightened Arab leadership, as well as US leadership, could contribute by nudging the PLO toward openly recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Remote as this may seem in present circumstances, each step ought to be measured with such outcomes in mind. Thus Mr. Reagan is wise to hold back on Israel's hopes for US military participation in a military force outside United Nations auspices to police a demilitarized buffer zone in Lebanon. A better alternative in line with the overall peace process would be to strengthen the UN peacekeeping force that has been granted so little cooperation by either Israelis or Arabs in Lebanon so far. Such a force should have a clear mandate to aid the Lebanese military to preserve peace in southern Lebanon until Lebanon has a viable central government again.
Americans saw how much time and dedication it took for President Carter to help Egypt and Israel reach the Camp David agreement. It also took an Arab leader, President Sadat, willing to invest much political and personal capital in the process. Possibly Saudi Arabia's new King Fahd, who has offered a peace initiative before, is in a position to carry the process further. But if he and other Arabs are to be encouraged to any sort of compromise they will need to see evidence of US leadership in the matter of the Palestinians.
Secretary of Defense Weinberger has been one administration voice recognizing the damage to America's Arab ties in any US identification with Israeli excesses in Lebanon, where he said Prime Minister Begin should have used diplomacy, not military force. From all reports, most members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee left Mr. Begin aware that his actions in Lebanon would not be rubber-stamped by them. Even one of the few reported to have spoken up for Mr. Begin, Senator Moynihan, said he had never seen a more difficult session with a foreign leader. There is certainly room for legislative scrutiny when a prime recipient of US aid and arms such as Israel mounts an invasion like the current one.
Mr. Reagan cannot but take account of such feelings in Washington as he proceeds with renewed vigor toward Mideast peace. Nor should he fail to notice those humane concerns being expressed in Israel either.