The architect of Israel's military campaign in Lebanon, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, told senior U.S. officials yesterday that there will be absolutely no change in Israeli policy toward the Palestinians after defeat and dispersal of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Following meetings here with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Sharon said Israel "will never agree" to a new Palestinian state, that its cabinet would not even discuss an amended peace plan for the area, and that Israel has begun a new round of discussions with local Palestinians in search of a West Bank solution to its liking without waiting for resumption of the autonomy talks with Egypt.
The Israeli defense minister predicted that the victories by his troops in Lebanon will create "a new era in the peace process." His words suggested that Israeli policy on the diplomatic front will be as unyielding as Sharon's policies on the military front in the past 12 weeks.
While Sharon was in the midst of his Washington meetings, the California White House announced that Weinberger will fly to Beirut Tuesday to visit U.S. Marines who are monitoring the PLO withdrawal, and then will travel to Israel and Egypt. Pentagon officials said that the defense secretary would not lay out the administration's still-developing diplomatic plans in the region, but that his discussions would focus on the logical next steps.
Unlike his Middle East trip last February, in which remarks to the press aboard his plane generated controversy after controversy, this Weinberger journey will include no reporters, the Pentagon said.
The response of Shultz and Weinberger in their separate meetings with the provocative Sharon was uncertain. Neither U.S. Cabinet officer accompanied Sharon to the door of their departments where reporters were gathered to question him, and the press statements issued later were even vaguer than is usual on such occasions.
Following two impromptu press conferences by Sharon at the State Department, expounding in English and Hebrew the positions he had just presented, department spokesman John Hughes said only that Shultz and Sharon discussed "general matters" concerning the Middle East and that they "did not get into detailed discussion of the Lebanese and Palestinian issues" in their 80-minute session.
Appeals for additional information about the substance of the meeting were turned aside.
During most of the 45-minute meeting with Weinberger, according to Pentagon officials, Sharon stood at a huge map of Lebanon pointing out various troop deployments. At the end of the "map-and-pointer" session, as one participant described it, the two defense secretaries huddled without aides in a side room.
At the State Department, Sharon was accompanied only by Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens, and Shultz by Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Veliotes in a meeting that, according to Sharon's account, ranged widely over Middle East diplomatic issues.
"There are differences on the autonomy issue and other issues," Sharon told Israeli reporters in Hebrew. He added, though, that "there is no doubt" of the basic Israeli-American partnership in the region.
The Israeli military leader went on to say that in the face of differences during the Lebanese campaign, "we took into consideration the appeals and sometimes demands of the United States," apparently referring to U.S. objections to heavy bombing, blockading and some other Israeli military actions. Were it not for these Israeli accommodations, he said, "the expulsion of the PLO would have been achieved earlier."
Shultz has said repeatedly since the day of his first confirmation hearing as secretary of state last month that the Palestinian issue must be addressed urgently and completely in order to move toward peace in the strife-torn Middle East. He has not outlined how this is to be done, except to say in general terms that the Camp David process is the starting point, and to suggest that it contains language flexible enough for new approaches.
The comments of Sharon following yesterday's meeting, and many other Israeli official comments in recent days, seemed to reflect apprehension about possible new U.S. stands in the Middle East and a desire to rebut them in advance.
Egypt has been demanding changes in the political setting for the autonomy talks, including U.S. support for Palestinian "self-determination," as a condition of resuming these negotations. Self-determination, in the Israeli view, would be likely to produce a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
"There is a Palestinian state. Jordan is a Palestinian state . . . . Israel never agreed and will never agree to a second Palestinian state," Sharon said after meeting with Shultz.
The State Department, in response to similar remarks about Jordan by Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzak Shamir in a Washington Post article, declared Thursday and repeated yesterday a continued "U.S. commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Jordan" and "our support for its unique and enduring character."
Asked about resumption of the autonomy negotiations, Sharon referred to his meetings Wednesday with Palestinians active in the Israeli-backed West Bank village leagues. To Israeli reporters, he added in Hebrew, "We are not going to wait for anybody. We are starting contacts on our own."
At a news conference here, Hasan Abdul-Rahman, a PLO spokesman, said he is "saddened" that U.S. officials received Sharon, charging that he "is in the United States to achieve American approval for Israel's second phase of their 'final solution' for the Palestinian problem."
Sharon is scheduled to speak here tonight to an Israeli Bonds conference of about 600 American Jewish leaders, seeking to raise $60 million for Israel. Arens, who spoke to the conference yesterday, said the war in Lebanon may have cost $3 billion to $4 billion, one-fourth of Israel's gross national product.
Staff reporter George C. Wilson contributed to this report.