Reagan's Mideast Peace Initiative

November 12, 1982

Report Outline
Lebanese Reconstruction
Palestinian Problem
Situation in Israel
Special Focus

Lebanese Reconstruction

Uncertain Prospects for U.S. Peace Plan

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon last summer and the expulsion of Palestinian military forces from West Beirut significantly altered prospects for a Middle East peace settlement, creating new opportunities and pitfalls for U.S. diplomacy. In contrast to the 1973 Middle East war, which brought the superpowers to the brink of confrontation, the Soviet Union remained on the sidelines this year and the U.S. government emerged as the generally recognized arbiter of Middle East affairs. Now that the U.S. election is over and the Reagan administration is free of campaign pressures, the president is expected to renew his push for a comprehensive peace settlement when Prime Minister Menachem Begin calls on him Nov. 19 during a private visit to the United States.

In a nationally televised speech Sept. 1, just after the evacuation of Palestinian commandos from Beirut had been completed, President Reagan announced a new U.S. peace plan. He proposed that the Palestinian inhabitants of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip be granted self-rule in association with Jordan. The president also called for negotiations to decide the status of Jerusalem, although he expressed the conviction that the city, which is sacred to Moslems, Christians and Jews, “must remain undivided.” Finally, the president asked for a freeze on new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. While the basic elements of Reagan's plan had been stated U.S. objectives for many years, it was considered significant that Reagan drew them together in a comprehensive proposal and put the full weight of his authority behind them.

The Israeli government headed by Menachem Begin immediately rejected Reagan's proposals and has since voted to establish new Jewish settlements on the West Bank. But Israel's Arab neighbors and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have reacted to the plan with cautious interest, and some believe that with a concerted effort from the U.S. government something may come of it. While the PLO could eventually return to the terrorist tactics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Palestinians are thought to be in a poor position to block negotiations, having lost their Lebanese base. In Israel, support for Begin's policies remains high, but the Lebanese operation has provoked an unprecedented amount of controversy, and the position of the more inflexible parties could erode.

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