The Reagan administration, still facing an impasse in locating a new home for Palestinian guerrillas surrounded by Israeli forces in West Beirut, issued a call yesterday for "the Arab community" to help solve the problem.
The public statement at the State Department by spokesman Dean Fischer came amid reports of behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts, including messages from President Reagan to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria, to eliminate the most important immediate barrier to a Beirut settlement.
Syria had been expected to be the initial reception point for the 5,000 to 6,000 Palestine Liberation Organization fighters after their withdrawal from Beirut. Its refusal to take that role, according to administration officials, has brought at least a temporary halt to the drive for a negotiated settlement.
Reagan's letter to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, dispatched Wednesday, expressed concern that because of the impasse "we may be but a few days away" from a time when Israeli patience is exhausted and large-scale Israeli military action is launched against the Palestinians.
Reflecting the international turmoil, new criticism of Israel, as well as a new defense of the Jewish state, came yesterday in congressional testimony from two former senior U.S. officials, George W. Ball and Richard V. Allen.
While Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Kaddam was quoted as saying in Nicosia, Cyprus, that his country's decision is "final" and will not be changed, there is considerable doubt among U.S. officials and in diplomatic circles that this is the case.
Kaddam is expected to arrive here Sunday with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Faisal, representing the Arab League. The two ministers are expected to see Reagan Tuesday.
The campaign to resolve the situation has two elements.
It seeks to persuade Syria to change its mind about being at least the immediate transfer point for most of the PLO fighters in Beirut, and seeks to facilitate Syria's role by obtaining agreement of other Arab nations to take most of the PLO troops off Syrian hands after the initial transfer.
According to officials, it was the latter point that the State Department was seeking to advance in the statement by Fischer that the administration is "hopeful that the Arab community will find a way to resolve this issue promptly."
Reagan's letters to King Fahd and Syrian President Hafez Assad were an important part of the U.S. drive.
According to an account by Bernard Kalb of NBC News, confirmed by independent sources, Reagan told Fahd that "we have been in contact with a number of Arab governments in an attempt to find a destination for those who will be departing Lebanon, but our efforts have not been successful."
The message added that Reagan had "not yet abandoned hope" that Syria might cooperate in the common effort or that a solution could be sought through "acceptance by several Arab states of a portion" of the PLO guerrillas.
Initially, it was thought that Egypt, Algeria, Iraq and Syria would be among the most important homes for PLO leaders and guerrillas leaving Beirut. Egypt has continued to make clear its willingness to accept part of the group, but problems have been reported with the other countries.
As reported by Kalb, Reagan also wrote Fahd, "I must tell you in all frankness that the awareness that the negotiations have reached this impasse is strengthening the hands of those in Israel who doubt our ability to achieve a peaceful solution to the crisis and who argue in favor of an immediate military solution. We may be but a few days away from the time when they will gain the upper hand."
The message to Assad was first reported on Monte Carlo Radio by Louis Fares, a Syrian with close ties to the Damascus regime, and confirmed by Washington sources. Fares said that Reagan's message contained a specific request that Syria agree to accept the PLO fighters but that Assad replied quickly with a rejection.
In a hearing on the Mideast before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former undersecretary of state Ball branded Israel "the spoiled child of our foreign policy" and criticized the administration for responding to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon "with a strange and unbecoming silence."
Ball, a longtime critic of U.S. policy in the Mideast, said the United States "urgently needs to recast its relations with Israel." He specifically cited the prospect of an Israeli invasion of West Beirut with U.S. weapons, saying the United States should make clear to Israel its opposition to such an invasion and threaten a cutoff of U.S. military aid if an attack occurs.
Ball said the two nations must deal with each other "with complete frankness and straightforwardness--a state of affairs that has never existed between the Israeli and American governments."
The established pattern, Ball charged, is that Israel secretly embarks on a military action while U.S. attention is focused elsewhere, that the U.S. responds, if at all, with mild threats and that, when Israel reacts angrily, the United States backs down and provides more military and economic aid. The Reagan administration, he said, has fallen into this pattern.
The result, Ball charged, is that the United States is viewed as condoning Israeli military actions. "We are made to appear as an accessory to Israel's brutal invasion--or at least as a nation too weak and irresolute to restrain a client state whose military strength largely derives from our gift of deadly arms."
Ball also charged that Israel's actions had sacrificed its historic position as an especially moral nation. "It's lost its soul," said Ball, who called Israel "a warrior state with expansionist ambitions . . . Israel is no longer Athens; it is becoming Sparta."
Ball's views were strongly opposed by Allen, who was presidential assistant for national security during the first 11 months of the Reagan administration. Allen said Israel remains a "strong and loyal" ally of the United States.
While there are disagreements from time to time, Allen said, "in the long range Israel will stand side by side with the United States."
Allen also said Israel's military triumph and removal of the PLO from Lebanon would create "an important opportunity for United States diplomacy. . . . A moment has been created in which we can envisage, for the first time in years, a free and independent Lebanon."
The PLO's claim to legitimacy has been undermined, and the United States, in this situation, "retains the initiative and momentum" in the area, Allen said.
In his opinion, Allen said, "Israel's move into Lebanon was motivated by a growing concern about her security and resulting frustration over the dangerous and deteriorating situation in Lebanon itself."