In the course of two days the week before last, both Alexander Haig and Menachem Begin granted separate interviews to Trude Feldman, Washington correspondent for an international group of Jewish newspapers. This was apparently Haig's last interview before he resigned as secretary of state, and Begin's only newspaper interview during his visit to this country.
Feldman had the foresight to ask Begin how he would feel if Haig left office (as he did three days later), a question that surprised the Israeli prime minister, who gave Haig an eloquent testimonial. She questoned Haig about his attitude toward Begin, which produced another testimonial. Haig also offered views on the war in Lebanon that showed his sympathy for Israeli objectives there, a position that apparently put him at odds with White House officials. The edited excerpts of these two interviews reveal an unusual bond between statesmen of two different countries. Haig
Q: How was Israeli Prime Minister Begin's visit to Washington? Were there any provocations?
A: Mr. Begin never provokes me. I think I know where he comes from. He is a patriot. He is a man who is isolated, as are his people, in an unfriendly environment. He is a man who, with vision and statesmanship, can change that situation with flexibility and understanding for the agonies of the Palestinian people which also must be considered.
Mr. Begin had a very difficult time with the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, but his meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee was much easier.
Q: You've spent many hours with Prime Minister Begin. How would you describe hiim?
A: He is a leader with a great burden.
Q:: Why is he depicted so negatively in the press?
A: In some ways, he has always been badly treated by the press. But he is not going to get his report card in history based on whether or not the press has been good or bad o him. He will be measured by whether or not he preserved and furthered the interest of his people and contributed to peace and stability in the region of the Middle East.
Q: Why are you unwilling to criticize Israel publicly?
A: I believe in conducting diplomacy among friends as friends, and not under the glare of public posturing, and criticism in a manner in which states deal directly with one another in quiet diplomacy and in a manner that each other's positions are mutually understood.
Q: Do you agree with Begin and his policies?
A: Not always, but it's not a question of being for a personality or a leader or against a personality. It is a question of espousing and adhering to a set of principles designed to achieve America's best interests in the region in tune with America's fundamental values.
Q: Do you agree with Premier Begin's incursion into Lebanon?
A: It's not my role to agree or not. Mr. Begin explains the motivations for actions taken one way. The Israeli assessment presents one picture. Other sources present another picture. And the Lebanese government presents yet a third picture. Israel has justified its action as the result of a continuation of terrorism from the Lebanese territory against the populations of Nothern Galilee. Israel insists that the initial reaction of its forces under the provocation of an assault on her diplomat in London (Ambassador Shlomo Argov) was a surgical strike against two PLO installations south of Beirut, neither of which resulted in the noncombatant casualties attributed to them. But the subsequent strikes against Beirut which have generated such criticisms, Israel insists were the result of extensive rocket and artillery fire from southern Lebanon into northern Galilee.
Q: What's the solution to the Lebanon crisis?
A: The situation in Lebanon offers a great strategic opportunity for the moderate Arab world, for the United States, and above all for the tortured people and populations of Lebanon who have been under the heel of an international terrorist organization -- and terrorized, plagued and brutalized since entry of the PLO into that country in the mid 1970s.
The situation developed after the expulsion of the hard-core Palestinian movement from Jordan in the early 1970s. Now the Mideast is once again wrenched by the horrors of war.
Many people criticize Israel for overreaction, and indeed, that has been Israel's pattern -- in a military sense -- since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
Today, the West is facing the judgment -- should, or can we insist on arrangements which will leave the Palestinian terrorist organization intact as an armed extraterritorial element within the sovereign borders of Lebanon? The answer is a resounding "No."
It is vitally important for the West to keep its eye on the historic perspective of the tragedy that is Lebanon today and not reimpose the conditions which brought about this tragic situation.
Q: What has been the impact on U.S. relations with Israel as a result of Premier Begin's incursion into Lebanon?
A: Every resort to force by Israel has its cost. It is frequently difficult for those not immediately involved to comprehend or accept violent Israeli response to an accumulation of terrorist provocations any one of which appears less significant than the Israeli reaction. It is precisely this phenomenon that has historically made the combatting of terrorism so difficult.
Q: What about arms for Jordan?
A: Over an extended period, Jordan has expressed interest in mobile air defense capabilities and it was the previous administration's failure to provide such equipment that resulted in the subsequent deal between Jordan and the Soviet Union to provide similar equipment.
No state should have a veto over U.S. relationships with other friendly states, and it makes little sense for Israel to pursue policies which have the practical consequence of forcing neighboring states to satisfy their legitimate defense needs through arrangements with powers that do not share U.S. or Israeli interests.
Q: What's the next step in the Middle East?
A:The establishment of a sovereign Lebanon, free from external forces, free from extra territoriality within its borders and a major renewed emphasis on the peace process; the solution to the autonomy question--as an interim confidence-building process upon which a comprehensive peace can ultimately be built.
There is an urgent need for dramatic progress in the autonomy process. Above all, there must be a clear recognition of the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Q: How will you end this crisis?
A: The important thing is to first emerge from this tragedy with a unified sovereign Lebanon--sovereign within its internationally recognized borders; secondly, to proceed from this achievement with a resolve to solve the autonomy question without further delays and to seek to broaden this process.