Eyes turn to Israel as Arabs appear to unify
In a burst of unity, Arab leaders are attempting to do at the conference table what they have seldom achieved on the battlefield: outflank the Israelis.
At their summit meeting in Fez, Morocco, the Arabs are reported to have agreed unanimously on two central issues:
1. An eight-point framework for peace which is said to incorporate aspects of President Reagan's plan as well as Saudi and Tunisian proposals.
2. An end to the presence in Lebanon of the Syrian forces originally sent in to keep the peace following the 1975-76 Lebanese civil war. Some early reports indicated that this ending of the Arab League mandate for Syrian troops in Lebanon was contingent on a parallel withdrawal of Israeli forces.
The Arab leaders' agreement on a new peace plan is an apparent victory for the moderates. Such unanimity had previously proved elusive. The last Fez summit , in November 1981, collapsed on precisely such issues.
This week's success suggests that the Arabs are keen to make the best of the Reagan initiative, at least in the public relations sphere. Just how far they are prepared to go in reacting favorably to the American initiative will not be clear until the details of the Arab proposals are known. But, unlike Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Arabs have avoided any precipitous rejection of the Reagan plan.
At time of writing, the new Arab peace framework was said by Arab diplomats in Rabat, Morocco, to call for establishment of a Palestinian state within a peace process in which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would take part.
Some conference sources said that the conference had considered sending a delegation of Arab leaders to Washington, including PLO leader Yasser Arafat, for talks to discover further details of President Reagan's plan.
Such sources said that any American acceptance of such a delegation including Mr. Arafat would mark a turning point in Washington's Middle East policy. The United States has refused to deal with the PLO unless the organization recognizes Israel. In his own speech to the Fez summit, Mr. Arafat did not rule out acceptance of the proposals put forward by Mr. Reagan Sept. 1.
By also approving at least a conditional withdrawal of 30,000 Syrian troops presently facing Israeli soldiers across a no man's land extending through central Lebanon, the Arabs have put the diplomatic ball back into Israel's court. If the Israelis decline to pull their own troops out of Lebanon the Arabs will be able to affirm that it was not for lack of accomodation on their part.
Lebanese officials have expressed alarm at the current ''state of high tension'' between the two armies on their soil. And up to now, each has refused to withdraw until the other does. Reports from Israel Wednesday said Israeli jets destroyed yet another rocket launcher for SAM-9 ground-to-air missiles six miles east of Bhamdun - bringing to 21 the total number of Syria's Soviet-made SAM-6, -7, -8, and -9 missile batteries destroyed since the Lebanon war began.
There were also reports of brief exchanges of bazooka and gunfire between Israeli troops and the Syrian and Palestinian forces massed in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
Special correspondent T. Elaine Carey reports from Beirut:
Syria's agreement in principle to leave Lebanon should avert the opening of a third front in the Israeli invasion, according to well placed sources in Lebanon and the Gulf.
The Israelis and Syrians have been squaring off in the lush eastern Bekaa valley for some weeks now, but tension has mounted in the last several days.
The Syrians have about 30,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks mostly in the Bekaa, but also in northern Lebanon around Tripoli. Mixed among them are approximately 10,000 Palestinian guerrillas in the Bekaa and another 5,000 in Tripoli.
The Israelis still number about 100,000 countrywide and have sufficient artillery peering down from the Sannine mountaintops at the Syrians in the valley.
A PLO spokesman in Damascus said eight Israeli soldiers were taken prisoner over the weekend. There also have been very brief firefights across the frontlines prompting the Lebanese press and some politicians to push the panic button warning a new battle was imminent. But a Western diplomat close to the negotiations for a diplomatic end to the invasion said he did not expect any major outbreak of fighting either in the Bekaa or north lebanon.
Beirut's leading newspapers, An Nahar and As Safir, Wednesday quoted sources at the Arab League summit in Fez, Morocco as saying Syria had agreed in principle to withdraw in order to deprive Israel of any excuse for remaining in the country.