Israel's invasion, Lebanon's opportunity

By , Arthur J. Goldberg is a former associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and a former US ambassador to the United Nations.

For some unexplained reason, a number of pundits and former government officials have sought recently to link Israel's invasion of Lebanon to the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

The most recent exponent of this view is Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national-security adviser to President Carter. In an Oct. 9 Op-Ed article in the New York Times, Dr. Brzezinski argues that ''the future of Lebanon is . . . linked organically to the Arab-Israeli dispute.'' Thus, he contends, disregarding chronology, that the Israeli invasion (June 1982) was designed deliberately to scuttle President Reagan's (Sept. 1) proposal for a comprehensive peace settlement. In substance he repeats this viewpoint in The Christian Science Monitor of Nov. 9.

A more credible explanation is that the purposes of Israel's invasion were first to protect its northern borders and then to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a fighting force. In this, the Israelis appear largely to have succeeded.

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Paradoxically - and despite Dr. Brzezinski's pessimism about the fate of the West Bank - this victory may actually have created the conditions necessary for a resurrection of the autonomy talks contemplated by the Camp David accords. With the threat of deadly PLO retaliation diminished by the group's demotion in military terms to the status of a paper tiger, West Bank dignitaries - and perhaps King Hussein as well - may feel free to pursue the avenue of autonomy.

Nor can the picture Dr. Brzezinski paints of the Soviets as the main beneficiaries of recent Middle East developments be squared with the blow Israel delivered in Lebanon to the Soviet-supplied Syrians and PLO.

In decrying Israel's invasion of Lebanon, Dr. Brzezinski ignores the painful realities that plagued Lebanon even before the Israeli invasion. Before Israel acted, Lebanon was occupied by the Syrians (under the guise of an Arab peacekeeping force), and by the PLO (since 1970, when it was expelled from Jordan by King Hussein). Lebanon was, moreover, caught in the throes of a civil war between Christians and Muslims, arising from dissatisfaction with the traditional power-sharing formula, rendered obsolete by recent census data.

Dr. Brzezinski's analysis notwithstanding, the Israelis cannot be blamed for destabilizing Lebanon. Rather, by expelling the PLO and confining Syria to the Bekaa Valley, Israel provided the government of Lebanon with its first opportunity in recent years to reestablish its authority as a sovereign state. If this commendable goal is to be achieved, all foreign troops must leave Lebanon. While Israel has agreed to remove its forces, the Syrians have refused to live up to their guarantees to do the same. Until Syria withdraws, foreign troops, including Israelis and the US Marines, will understandably remain.

Finally, Dr. Brzezinski comes close to making the impractical and amoral suggestion that the United States seek to extort Israeli concessions on Lebanon and the West Bank by freezing economic and military aid. Congress and President Reagan, to their credit, will surely not agree.

Dr. Brzezinski is a scholar and a distinguished political scientist, but apparently his knowledge of Scriptures is deficient. The Bible describes Jews to be a ''stiff-necked'' people. The Israelis and their Jewish supporters elsewhere can be persuaded by reasonable argument; they cannot be coerced, even by an ally such as the United States, or by their perilous economic condition.

Reasonable people may differ about the wisdom of Israel's invasion of Lebanon or its settlements on the West Bank. But the lesson of history is that differences between allies must be resolved not by confrontation but by an understanding diplomacy. And, where they cannot be resolved, such differences must be accepted, so as not to imperil the alliance.

Two final queries: First, why is it that upon leaving office so many government officials, such as Dr. Brzezinski, forsake evenhandedness and instead tilt to the Arab point of view? Second, why does Dr. Brzezinski fail even to mention the Camp David accords, of which he was one of the architects? Among other things, the agreement provides for a five-year experiment with autonomy for the West Bank, before the much more difficult problem of sovereignty is addressed.

The basic defect of the Reagan plan is that while it pays lip service to the Camp David agreement, it bypasses the five-year autonomy period and attempts to lay down rules now for resolution of the sovereignty issue. Dr. Brzezinski, in his article, commits the same blunder.

It is true that both Israel and Egypt have dragged their feet in the autonomy negotiations. But diplomatic negotiations require patience more than anything else - witness the Berlin settlement which was 20 years in the making, and the ongoing nuclear negotiations at Geneva and the Mutual Reduction of Force talks at Vienna.

Instead of Dr. Brzezinski's simplistic analysis, we should pay heed to Edmund Burke's sage observation that in grave matters of foreign affairs the choice most often is between the undesirable and the intolerable. What Dr. Brzezinski suggests is intolerable.

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