American Jewish leaders asked Secretary of State George P. Shultz yesterday to avoid any steps in the Middle East that might "rehabilitate" the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Julius Berman, president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he and 13 other Jewish notables were asked by Shultz to give their off-the-record views as part of Shultz' consultations on the future of the Mideast. Berman said both sides had been "obviously candid" in the hour-long talk but reached no conclusions.
Berman said the group had expressed "the general hope that nothing be done by the United States that could possibly rehabilitate the PLO," which has been "virtually destroyed" by its expulsion from Lebanon "and can only be rehabilitated by a hand stretched out by the United States."
He declined to reveal Shultz' reply, but said he is confident that any U.S. actions under consideration are "within the broad spectrum of the Camp David process."
He added that it would be "a great help" if Jordan joined the negotiations, a longstanding hope of Israel's supporters.
In New York yesterday, Berman's group hosted Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who is to meet separately with Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger here this morning.
Sharon told the group that Israel's intensive air attacks on West Beirut this month were the key factor in forcing the PLO to leave.
"Until then, they were demanding terms that would have allowed them to restore the same situation in Beirut," Sharon said, as pro-PLO demonstrators chanted outside the building. "If we would not have taken American requests for restraint in the bombing into consideration, we could have arrived at this place of expulsion much earlier."
But, he added, "I don't blame anyone. We don't have a better friend than the United States."
Sharon will join former vice president Walter F. Mondale and Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens here to address 600 U.S. and Canadian Jewish leaders at a three-day Israel Bond Leadership Conference.