Israeli ultimatum: peace treaty . . . or else
Jerusalem — Israel and its Christian Lebanese ally, President-elect Bashir Gemayel - whose ascendancy was a key goal of the campaign in Lebanon - are at odds over their future relationship.
Israel has given Mr. Gemayel an ultimatum of signing a peace treaty or accepting a ''special status'' for a 40-kilometer security zone along Israel's northern border, which would effectively preclude the reunification of Lebanon.
Israeli sources say this zone would be policed by the Israeli-backed militia commanded by Lebanese Christian Maj. Saad Haddad.
Major Haddad has controlled a Lebanese enclave just across Israel's northern border since the late 1970s.
But Mr. Gemayel, reportedly upset at public Israeli pressure for a speedy peace pact, has indicated his disagreement with a long-term, direct, or proxy Israeli presence in southern Lebanon. He has threatened to place Major Haddad, who left the Lebanese Army to return home to the south and fight against the PLO with Israeli assistance, on trial for desertion. This has been confirmed by very reliable sources arriving here from Lebanon.
Both Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon have indicated their disappointment at Mr. Gemayel's obvious desire to distance himself from Israel at this time. Given Israel's key role in the election of the controversial young militia chief, by eliminating his Palestinian and Syrian enemies, they view this as rank ingratitude, especially since Mr. Gemayel's forces did not - as was anticipated by Israel - join the fighting in west Beirut.
Mr. Begin told the Israeli public that such a treaty would be signed this year. His invitation of Mr. Gemayel to a top-secret meeting in the northern Israeli resort of Nahariya on Sept. 1 was sparked by concern at Mr. Gemayel's apparent reluctance to commit himself publicly to normal ties with Israel. Mr. Gemayel reportedly told Mr. Begin that such matters could not be forced but must wait for a new Lebanese government and internal stability. News of the meeting was leaked to an Israeli radio reporter closely associated with Defense Minister Sharon and caused Mr. Gemayel great embarrassment.
Among senior political officials in Israel there are two schools of thought on the peace treaty issue. One school recognized Mr. Gemayel's need to woo influential Lebanese Muslim leaders who boycotted his election but now appear willing to enter a dialogue much needed if Lebanon is to become politically stable.
Such reconciliation is at risk if Mr. Gemayel moves too openly toward an Israeli peace treaty. This first school also recognizes Mr. Gemayel's need to cement relations with the Arab world, on which Lebanon depends commercially, and to establish a modus vivendi with neighboring Syria despite its threats against peace with Israel. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz recently wrote, ''What will Lebanese who received us so warmly say about Sharon when he acts like a Roman proconsul who wants to dictate the country's foreign policy?''
But the other school, led by Defense Minister Sharon, argues that Israel ''must strike while the iron is hot'' to ensure a treaty with Lebanon since Arab pressure against it will only increase as time passes. ''A peace treaty is a security necessity,'' insists Mr. Sharon. This school believes that without Israel Mr. Gemayel cannot eject Syrian Army troops or the remaining armed Palestine Liberation Organization members out of Lebanon, and this fact can be used as a lever to accelerate recognition.
Another lever is strong Israeli backing of Major Haddad to control a southern Lebanese ''security zone'' if no peace treaty materializes. This zone is considered essential by the Israelis to prevent reinfiltration of armed elements near the Israeli border. Mr. Sharon has given Saad Haddad's forces the green light to expand his sphere of influence northward past the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon. Already headquartered next to Israeli military headquarters in Sidon, Major Haddad has set up roadblocks - the quintessential Lebanese method of demonstrating presence - north of Tyre, in order to check for PLO members still at large and harassing Israeli vehicles. However, units of Mr. Gemayel's Phalange militia have been prevented from moving south, reportedly angering the Lebanese president-elect, who sees Major Haddad's forces as a threat to Lebanese unity and a challenge to his authority.
Continued Israeli backing of Mr. Haddad is likely to increase tension between the Israelis and Mr. Gemayel. About two months ago, Israeli officials arranged a private meeting between the two men in Sidon in hopes of encouraging a reconciliation. But Major Haddad told the Monitor shortly after the meeting that he had taken the opportunity to demand that Mr. Gemayel move a Phalange office out of Sidon.
Some Lebanese suggest a solution would be to give Major Haddad a diplomatic post abroad, but he has said he will not leave until Lebanon signs a peace treaty with Israel.