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Diplomats want to build on wobbly Mideast cease-fire

Can the cease-fire pieced together by US envoy Philip Habib be expanded into a broader peace settlement among Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinians? While the US State Department this weekend said it could be done, officials in Menachem Begin's government doubt it.

The Israelis say the Lebanese government is too unstable to guarantee peace. And they contend that Syria and the Palestinians are committed to continued occupation of Lebanon for operations against Israel.

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But other analysts here are more optimistic. They include members of the Israeli Labor Party and even United Nations Mideast Commander Emmanuel Erskin, who says a 1948 armistice (which lapsed in 1967) between Israel and Lebanon could be revived and updated.

As Western diplomats see it, however, the main vehicle for broadening the cease-fire and forging a lasting peace will have to be the "autonomy talks" outlined in the Camp David treaty.

Egypt's President Anwar Sadat visits Washington this week in an attempt, as the Egyptian press indicates, to encourage President Reagan to revitalize the autonomy talks and to bring the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza into the negotiations in some way or other.

Next month it will be Mr. Begin's turn to visit Washington. If, as now appears likely, he manages this week to put together a governing coalition for the next four years, the year-long hiatus in the autonomy talks -- caused by elections in the US and Israel -- will be at an end, a Western diplomat notes.

The months ahead, such diplomats say, will probably display all the usual dramas of a Mideastern bargaining session -- ploys, resistance, adamant demands, and refusals. But ultimately, they suggest, it is still possible that a deal can be made.

No direct link can yet be discerned between Camp David and the hastily wrought cease-fire of July 24. The greatest difficulties, as Israelis in the government see it, are enforcing the cease-fire and then devising some arrangement to bring the many parties involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict to a negotiating table.

No major cease-fire infractions have been reported since last week. But judging by official statements, it is still quite shaky. The Israeli military has been complaining that Palestinian guerrillas in southern Lebanon are using the lull to build up their military strength. Continuing Israeli reconnaissance flights over Lebanon are being met by ground fire and aerial interception by Syria. And in Israel last week a tourist bus was attacked by armed men.

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"The cease-fire is in their [the Palestine Liberation Organization's] interest," says an Israeli foreign affairs specialist. "They get to show their moderation and to fix up their military situation. Israel cannot sit idly by Israel should undermine this [the Palestinian military buildup] from the beginning."

For the moment, Mr. Begin has chosen to allow the alleged Palestinian build up to continue, thus showing Israel's own moderation. His Likud coalition is being hammered together on the promise that Camp David will be honored but that Israel "reserves the right" to establish settlements and exercise eventual sovereignty over the West Bank.

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