A defiant Prime Minister Menachem Begin, responding to the signs of growing American anger over Israeli attacks on West Beirut, said tonight that no amount of outside pressure "will bring Israel to her knees."
Speaking to 190 American Jewish leaders flown here on short notice, Begin also warned that Israel will not compromise on its demand that the trapped Palestinian guerrillas leave the city and all of Lebanon.
Begin did not refer directly to reports--which were unconfirmed here--that the Reagan administration has drawn up a tentative list of military, economic and diplomatic sanctions that could be imposed if Israel continues its attacks on the Lebanese capital. But in a clear response to such suggestions, he quoted Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) as having recently urged President Reagan "to bring Israel to her knees" and added:
"I have to tell Senator Percy that nobody, nobody is going to bring Israel to her knees. You must have forgotten that the Jews kneel but to God."
An example of Israel's diplomatic isolation following the attacks came from Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, who told the Paris daily Le Monde that he did not see how Israel and Egypt could maintain "normal diplomatic relations" in the event of a full-scale Israeli attack on Beirut.
Publicly at least, officials here discounted the threat to relations with the only Arab country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel. "Let them curse us," Begin said tonight. "The peace treaty holds and there is not one Egyptian soldier within 150 kilometers" of the Israeli border.
Another official conceded that there is a growing strain with Egypt and said he hoped Egypt does not "translate what Ali said into concrete fact because this would mean a violation of the Camp David agreements."
Leaving little room for compromise, Begin said the trapped Palestine Liberation Organization fighters must leave Beirut and Lebanon and if they do not, "well, we will have to solve the problem."
"The terrorists will not stay either in Beirut or Lebanon," he said. "No, sir. It is out of the question. Everybody should take note of it, everybody. And nobody should preach to us."
Begin made no direct reference to the advances by the Israeli forces in West Beirut last night and today. Military officials said 64 Israeli soldiers were wounded, four of them seriously. This was one of the heaviest tolls Israel has suffered since the first days of the war when the Israeli Army swept through southern Lebanon and surrounded Beirut.
Today's fighting was also the first time since Sunday that Israeli warplanes were called into action above Beirut. The massive air, land and sea bombardment on Sunday produced a strong new U.S. demand that the latest cease-fire be strictly adhered to while special envoy Philip C. Habib seeks a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Despite the sharp escalation in the fighting, the Israeli military command insisted throughout the day that Israel was not beginning a final assault on Beirut. Other officials also denied suggestions that Israel had embarked on a strategy of gradually slicing off sections of the city.
The military spokesman's office described the Israeli moves as a "tightening of the siege on the terrorists' positions in Beirut" and expressed regret that "foreign communications media in Beirut are misleading the public with reports alleging that Israeli forces have tried to divide the city of Beirut into its two parts."
The moves by troops and tanks in West Beirut is the latest tactic the Israelis have chosen to try to force a PLO evacuation of the city without a full-scale and undoubtedly bloody assault. In the two weeks preceding the moves by the ground forces, Israel subjected Beirut to heavy air, land and sea bombardment, but failed to win a satisfactory agreement for a PLO withdrawal.
An Israeli official briefing foreign correspondents here today said there will be no "standard pattern" to the pressure Israel imposes. "What is happening is that in the last 24 hours the PLO terrorists violated the cease-fire several times," he said. "We have declared that we will not play a game according to PLO rules. We will choose the ways and means and proportion of our response to any cease-fire violation." The official also called on all civilians to leave West Beirut. Charging that the PLO "is hiding behind a civilian screen," he said, "if there is no civilian population, they know we can attack without much hesitation."
Asked where the civilians of Beirut were to go, he said this would be only a "temporary" problem.
The Jewish leaders from around the United States were here as part of a special "prime minister's mission" of the United Jewish Appeal. They pledged tonight to raise $220 million to maintain social services in Israel despite the cost of the war.
Begin predicted, as he has before during the eight-week siege, that the fighting would soon end and that it would be followed by "an historic period of peace." He said Israel invaded Lebanon only to protect its northern border from attack by the PLO and pursued the PLO to the outskirts of Beirut only because the guerrillas continued to attack.
"Go back home and tell your Christian friends that Israel's cause is just," Begin said. "We didn't do anything wrong."