In a speech at an Orange County dinner delivered about one-third in English and two-thirds in Arabic, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fares Bouez said that for his country, there can be no peace until its 400,000 Palestinian refugees are resettled in Israel or in other countries.
Bouez, the highest-ranking Lebanese official to speak in Southern California in 20 years, was accorded a respectful reception with polite but not always enthusiastic applause from the approximately 200 people attending the Sunday-night function at the Anaheim Marriott. The event was sponsored by the American-Lebanese National Council and the American Task Force for Lebanon.
Bouez repeatedly expressed skepticism about the recent peace accord signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying he fears that even after establishment of Palestinian self-rule, Lebanon could be left with Israeli occupation of its southern border regions and a large Palestinian population.
The foreign minister, a Maronite Christian who is a relative of Lebanese President Elias Hrawi, suggested that some of the Gulf states and Western countries agree to take in Palestinians whom the Israelis are unwilling to take back. The Gulf states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Lebanon, he said, is too small and crowded a country for them and that their presence threatens the demographic balance between native Christians and Muslims.
Lauding his speech Monday was the chairman of the American-Lebanese National Council, Mounzer Chaarani of North Tustin, who said, "I agreed with almost everything he said."
Chaarani was one of three Orange County Lebanese-Americans who last February accompanied Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) and two members of Cox's staff on a brief visit to Lebanon. A videotape of some of the high points of that trip was shown at Sunday's dinner.
Community leaders estimate that 25,000 Orange County residents are of Lebanese descent.
Several people who are fluent in Arabic, among them Farid Abboud, the Lebanese consul general for the Southland, said that Bouez was noticeably more pessimistic about the outcome of present Mideast peace negotiations in the Arabic portion of his speech than in the English.
"He believes that the recent agreement between the Israelis and the PLO weakened a little bit the bargaining position of Lebanon," Abboud said.
Houssam Wannous of Orange, managing editor of the Al-Wasat Al-Arabi newspaper, published in Orange County, remarked: "Regarding Lebanon, in Arabic, I thought he was very pessimistic. . . . He recognizes it's going to be very hard to get rid of the Israelis in southern Lebanon. . . . I agree with him 100%."
In English, Bouez seemed in a more mellow mood, remarking that he hopes to see the day when Lebanon is again completely sovereign, is a pluralistic democracy and can serve as a "bridge between two worlds," the West and Islam.
Asked by a member of the audience whether he hopes for a Syrian withdrawal from his country as well as an Israeli one, the foreign minister said that all Lebanese want a state patrolled only by its own security forces. But he indicated the Syrians would not go before the Israelis did.
Bouez said the current round of Arab-Israeli talks would probably have been impossible had the Soviet Union not collapsed. The collapse removed power rivalry as an impediment to talks, he said.
But still, he declared, before there can be a full settlement, the Israelis must agree to "withdraw behind all international borders."