A myth syrrounds the Isreali presence in, and Lebanon's policies toward, occupied southern Lebanon. Contrary to ill-intended rumors, Lebanon seeks the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied territories, Lebanon wants a coordinated and orderly withdrawal of Israel with U.N. assistance. Only a strong Lebanese central government and army can ensure law and order in southern Lebanon.
There is perhaps no issue that so unifies the Lebanese as the Israeli withdrawal. The Lebanese -- the president, the national unity government, the parliament and all other political figures, as well as the people -- theseek immediate and total withdrawal. it is Lebanese resistance that has persuaded Israel to begin its withdrawal, after all, and the acts of the resistance have been mounted as a result of its popular support.
Israel's refusal to present a program for the withdrawal of all its forces from Lebanese territory suggests that the so-called ''first phase'' may also be its last phase. That is, it may be a ruse to reduce the cost of occupation. In fact, the Israeli defense minister himself has called this a ''redeployment'' and has said Israeli forces may stay indefinitely.
The Lebanese government insists on a complete timetable for total Israeli withdrawal in order to judge the nature of Israeli plans, as well as to ensure an orderly extension of government authority to the liberated territory. The ''first phase,'' like the Israeli withdrawal from the Chauf in 1983, may be planned quite specifically to impede the imposition of greater Lebanese government control and to sustain local groups in league with Israel that will resist real Lebanese authority.
Moreover, Lebanon continues to request U.N. forces to facililtate a speedy and complete Israeli withdrawal and to help extend Lebanese government control over areas when Israeli forces withdraw. What we do not want -- and what the United Nations does not want -- is that U.N. forces be used as a shield after a partial Israeli withdrawal so that the remainder of Israeli's forces can remain in Lebanon. Nor will we accept a U.N. force that separates the parts or people of Lebanon. U.N. forces should speed withdrawal, not prevent it.
We are deeply worried about the maintenance of securilty in areas liberated from Israelil occupation. Our principal concern is for the protection of our citizens, but we are not unaware of the possibility that Israel may use the pretext of ''absence of law and order'' to intervene again. Furthermore, Israeli occupation has not ensured law and order. The many acts of resistance against Israel have taken place during the Israeli occupation, after all. Any threat to local population can best be reduced by the extension of government authority to the south: no major attacks of this sort have taken place where the government has exercised effective control.
Since its invasion in 1982, Israel has weakened both the government and the army by trying to arrive at special arrangfements with indivildual groups. Ultimately, only the central government of Lebanon can provide what is required in the south. This is not the Sinai or the Golan; it is a heavily populated area needing the social, economic and administrative services only a strong government can provide. Neither the Israeli army nor certainly the small (2,000 men) illegal local militia it supports (the South Lebanon Army) has been able to protect Israel's interests or those of the local citizens. The idea of drawing a 25-mile security belt never made military sense. If there is no strong government on our side of the border, there will also be no limit to the weapons that might be used against Israel, and some of those could have ranges of 50 to 100 miles or more.
Israel has found that stable, responsible, though unfriendly relationships, such as exist on its borders with Egypt, Jordan and even Syria, are most likely when the territory on the other side of the border is governed by a strong, central government. It is as much in Israel's interest as in Lebanon's, therefore, to have a strong rather than weak Lebanese central government.