“Lebanon is a free and sovereign and independent country. It is the cradle of movements that have shed their light throughout the dark Arab world. It enjoys a unique formula for coexistence between sects and religions. It is the meeting place of the civilizations of the world and a unique human laboratory.”
—The Constitutional Document of February 14, 1976
On April 5, 1975, seven Palestinian commandos landed on the Tel Aviv beach. They had come by sea in a rubber dinghy from the Southern Lebanese port of Sidon, a Sunnite Moslem city and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters, jocularly called by journalists ” the People’s Republic of Sidon.” They were trapped and killed in the seaside Savoy Hotel, which in 1975 was a flophouse and which, ironically, had been a command headquarters for Ben Gurion’s Hagana forces when they defeated Menachem Begin’s terrorists in the 1948 War of Independence.
The Savoy attack was one of the more dramatic of many raids the PLO had launched from Lebanon since 1964. The attacks had intensified since 1970, when the PLO, defeated in its attempt to set up a “soviet” in Irbid, Jordan, and overthrow King Hussein during “Black September,” retreated into Southern Lebanon. Here, for some five years, the PLO sought to take full advantage of what it regarded as its “extraterritorial” rights.
As the PLO expanded its struggle, the Israelis escalated their response. After the PLO massacred eleven Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in 1972, Israel invaded and occupied parts of Southern Lebanon for thirty-six hours. When PLO terrorists seized a school in Maalot in May, 1974, and caused the death of sixteen Israeli children, Israeli planes strafed villages in Southern Lebanon, or “Fatahland” as the Israelis called it, and killed an estimated fifty people. And so a continual cycle of terror and counter-terror gripped both sides.
But the 1975 Savoy raid provoked an uncharacteristic Israeli reaction. When asked what reprisals were being planned, Defense Minister Shimon Peres simply replied, “We shall allow Lebanese internecine strife to retaliate for us.” Peres, now head of the opposition Labor party, was referring of course to the bitter Moslem/Christian antagonism that, though endemic to Lebanese political life, had been recently exacerbated by the presence in Lebanon of stateless Palestinian refugees.
How did Israel plan to exploit this situation? As early as 1954, former prime minister David Ben Gurion had argued for the feasibility and desirability of encouraging a Maronite Christian separatist state in Lebanon. A partitioned Lebanon would establish a Christian state isolated from Arab intimidation and able to make peace with Israel. But Ben Gurion foresaw that such a state could be created only, as he put it, “in times of confusion, disturbance, revolution, and civil war.” One week after the Savoy raid, on April 13, 1975, this long-sought civil war, and Israel’s new form of retaliation, began.
When Moslem terrorists, thought to be the Shi’ite “Knights of Ali,” tried to assassinate Pierre Gemayel, leader of one of the prominent Maronite Christian families, the Phalange was ready to respond. The Phalange is the largest right-wing Maronite political and paramilitary organization. Within hours of the unsuccessful attack, Phalangist Maronite gunmen, in blind retaliation, massacred a busload of unarmed Moslems, predominantly Palestinian civilians, as they traveled through the Ain Rummaneh Christian quarter of Beirut Twenty-eight people were killed in what the noted Palestinian political analyst Walid Khalidi has termed the ” Sarajevo” of the Lebanese Civil War.
As Defense Minister Ariel Sharon recently revealed, the Israeli Army was quick to exploit this new outbreak of sectarian warfare and began to arm, train, and advise Phalangist troops. This policy (initiated, it should be noted, under the Labor Party) would culminate seven years later in the invasion of Lebanon by Israeli troops and their Phalangist allies. The first phase of what would become seven years of anarchy lasted until November 1976, when the fifty-sixth cease-fire finally held and Syrian troops, newly dubbed the Arab Defense Forces, occupied the Lebanese capital. These first fifteen months of civil war had taken over 30,000 lives. The ratio of civilian to combatant deaths was five to one. Seventy percent of those killed were under twenty years of age. Twenty-five thousand children were orphaned. These included boys of the Christian village of Damur, which had been destroyed by Palestinian and leftist Moslem forces in January 1976: 500 Maronites were killed, and 7,000 Christians were expelled. The Damur attack, in its turn, had exacted revenge for the brutal siege at Tel Zaatar, where 3,000 Palestinians had been killed by Phalangists. (The “Damuri” brigade of the Phalange Maronite militia were among the forces that committed the latest atrocities in Shatilla and Sabra Palestinian refugee camps; sworn to avenge their families, they continued the harvest of hate.)
The savagery of lex talionis, of force majeure, still rules in Lebanon. For the last ten years, the country has been held hostage by its own people and by regional wars and revolutions. Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, and Israeli forces are enmeshed in a sectarian nightmare and a massive international arms bazaar. As Khalidi observes, the antitheses of the Arab world surface in Lebanon: “Christian vs. Moslem, haves vs. have-nots, Left vs. Right, Pan-Arabism vs. isolationism, Maronite army vs. Palestinian commandos, status quo forces vs. the winds of change., Moslem counter-elite vs. Moslem feudal barons.”
Lebanon’s sectarian imbroglio is even more complicated than most Westerners realize, and extends from the Alawites, Shi’ite Moslems who pray to the sun rather than Mecca, and who believe in the right to dissemble one’s religion in a hostile environment, to the closed theosophical community of the Druze, “whose legendary vengeance is remorseless,” to the Yazidi, a syncretistic sect who consider Satan to be a fallen angel worthy of worship.
The American experience in this region is limited, despite the fact that US Marines landed unopposed on the beaches of Beirut in 1958 to preserve Lebanon’s “integrity” from the threat of Nasserist Pan Arabism. And whereas our citizens and soldiers now stationed for several years in the Sinai are isolated and already forgotten, this setting is a volatile minefield of conflicting passions and visions. We need to know as much as possible, as soon as possible, in order to participate in the debate that is surely coming, not solely over the extension of our forces under the War Powers Act, but over the appropriate role of America in the region as a whole. One place to begin is with the sense of history and perspective provided by several recent books: Walid Khalidi’s “Conflict and Violence in Lebanon”; David Gordon’s “Lebanon: The Fragmented Nation”; and Adeed I. Dawisha’s “Syria and the Lebanese Crisis.”
Walid Khalidi, a Palestinian professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut also teaches at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He has written an important insider’s work that he modestly terms, “partly a narrative, and partly an interpretive political essay.” He describes himself “as a Palestinian and a student of the Arab-Israeli conflict to whom Lebanon has been a second home, and the Lebanese tragedy the greatest tragedy to befall the Middle East since the 1948 Palestine War.”
David Gordon sees the country through the eyes of an expatriate American academic who spent nearly twenty-rive years teaching history at the American University in Beirut. He believes that the country is a “victim of its own dolce vita, the social insouciance of its elites, the fragility of its political structures,” and the forces of nationalism, socialism and Zionism. Gordon, now the chairman of the department of History at Wright State University of Ohio, is also a student of the intrusion of Western culture on non-Western societies during the era of de-colonization.
Adeed I. Dawisha, born in Iraq, is the assistant director of studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in England. A former senior research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in England, Dawisha views Lebanon through an analytical study of Syria’s decisionmaking behavior during the Lebanese Civil War, Using extensive interviews conducted in Damascus, Dawisha is able to give outsiders a clear picture of why Syria intervened in Lebanon and why Syrian leaders are so concerned about the future of Lebanon. Dawisha. believes that because Lebanon’s inter-communal conflict “was embodied in the very structure of the Lebanese political and social system,” Syrian intervention to preserve that order inevitably, and perhaps ironically, prolonged the fighting.
All three authors stress Lebanon’s fragility and vulnerability, what Khalidi terms its ” anonymity as a nation.” Though they all acknowledge and analyze the powerful international forces at work there, including the Syrians, the PLO, and the Israelis, they believe that even freed from these external pressures Lebanon will face the difficult task of reforming its political culture.
From the National Pact to the National Movement
Lebanon came into being as a political entity in the seventeenth century under Moslem Druze princess (The Druze are a closed and highly politicized Moslem sect whose specific religious beliefs are known only to a council of elders.) Lebanon suffered its first major sectarian strife in the 1860s, when the church encouraged Maronite Christian peasants to revolt against Druze feudalism. (The peasants were massacred.) In the aftermath of World War 1, Christian Lebanon was freed from Ottoman control by the French, who in 1920 complicated matters by adding to it predominantly Moslem areas from what was then Greater Syria. Significantly, this land grab has never been forgotten by successive irredentist Syrian regimes, who still consider northeastern Lebanon an ” indivisible” part of the Syrian Arab nation.
Since achieving full independence in 1946, Lebanon has continually struggled to transcend its inherent communal dissension and transform itself into a genuine nation. Under the National Pact of 1943, Lebanon’s unwritten constitution still in effect today, the mutassarifiate or proportional distribution of political power gives the Maronites a fixed advantage of a six to five ratio over the Moslem community in the government, army, and civil service. It also mandates that the president be a Maronite, the president of the Chamber of Deputies a Shi’ite, and the prime minister a Sunnite, while the head of the army is traditionally a Maronite. The Pact thus institutionalizes a compromise whereby the Christians accepted nominal membership in the Arab world, while the Moslems relented on demands for Pan-Arab unification.
This complex distribution of power is ostensibly based on the last census taken in Lebanon-in 1932. A second census has never been taken because its political implications would be so profound. The present population is assumed to be 3,250,000, and though Maronites continue to claim a numerical superiority, the reasonable probability is that the country is now 50 to 55 percent Moslem and 45 to 50 percent Christian, with the Shi’ites perhaps the largest single group. Khalidi asserts that no one knows for sure, and with the exception of the Shi’ites, no one really wants to know.
The primary loyalty of a Lebanese, the means of his self-identification, thus rests in his ethnic community. One is pot simply a Moslem, but rather a Drab or a Shi’ite or a Sunni. One is not simply a Christian, but a Maronite, a Catholic or an Armenian or a Greek Orthodox. The identification card a citizen must carry designates not only one’s religion but also one’s sect.
Clearly, there is no integrated political culture in Lebanon; Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this lack of national identity, Lebanon for many years enjoyed the reputation of a viable, cosmopolitan society, For many years, we in the West accepted Lebanon’s self-advertisement as the “Switzerland of the Middle East”-neutral, prosperous, and enticing. The Arabs themselves had, a seeming self-interest in perpetuating this image. Fouad Ajami, the director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, has written this wry description of Lebanon’s facade:
A place for those who played and lost the game of politics and who then needed somewhere to go to write their memoirs, or plot their return to power; a playground for Saudis and Kuwaitis who wished to flee the climate and puritanism of their own countries; a banking haven for Syrians who wanted to flee from the politics and intrigues of the military and economic responsibility of would-be socialists.
But as Walid Khalidi argues, the liberal openness or” anarchic leeway” given to non-Lebanese individuals and political organizations is “fundamentally an index of the state’s lack of self confidence, itself a reflection of the delicacy of the sectarian equilibrium.” Thus, what appeared to some to be a East and West was experienced by others as a society dominated by Francophile elitism, What it profited some to see as a thriving laissez-faire entrepot, others experienced as an arrogant alliance of money and feudalism. What some thought was a pluralistic, parliamentary republic based on law, others chafed under as a rigid and corrupt government of men chosen through primogeniture. What some valued as a community of compromise, others bitterly criticized as immobilist and sclerotic. What some understood as actions protective of cultural integrity and the national security, others felt to be cruel indifference to impoverished minorities and perpetually displaced peoples. These were, and remain, the primary internal and external contradictions of Lebanon.
Statistics point to certain Lebanese realities. At the start of the Civil War, four percent of the Lebanese owned 32 percent of the national revenue. The per capita income of Beirut and predominantly Maronite areas was easily eight times that of the Shi’ite south. (The 500,000 Palestinians, many of whom have been crowded in camps since 1948, do not have even the privileges of citizenship.) Most of the wealth in Lebanon is held by the ‘estimated 750,000 Maronites, who were and are the country’s power brokers. Their name derives from a fourthcentury monk, Marun; as a Catholic community with fealty to Rome, they fled to Lebanon from Syria in the second half of the seventh century because of religious persecution at the hands of the Byzantine government. The Maronites, who believe themselves to be the descendants of the Phoenicians, have adopted the French language and civilization as their own and perceive themselves as an integral part of the French nation, having been so designated by Louis IX during the Crusades. The French also designated them their heirs throughout the Mandate period of 1920-46, and today the Maronites so successfully dominate the definition of the Lebanese national culture that the National Museum has no Moslem relics, only Phoenician and Roman remains.
Even before the institutionalization of their dominance in the National Pact of 1943, the Maronites had been continually vigilant against any threats to the status quo. In 1936 the Maronite leader Pierre Gemayel founded the Khataib, or Phalange Party, modeled after the Sokol, the Czech equivalent of the Nazi Youth Movement Although many observers today emphasize this association with Nazism, the organization was created in response to the Lebanese Moslem leaders’ demands for “reintegration” into Syria, enunciated at the “Conference at the Coast,” in March 1936.
But meanwhile, beneath the facade of the National Pact, the inequities of Lebanese society inevitably led to sustained social unrest. In 1968, disgruntled groups, came together, and formed the militant, left-of-center National Movement under the leadership of Kamal Jumblatt. Taking deadly aim at the National Pact, the National Movement directly threatened both the Maronite and Sunnite oligarchic structures. Its program was “deconfessionalism”–a shift from the National Pact to a system of proportional representation of clans, based on the principle of “one man, one vote.” Although this was hardly revolutionary by Western democratic standards, as Khalidi points out, in Lebanon, it was “dynamite.”
The National Movement was a coalition of Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist party (itself an alliance of intellectuals), his Druze clan, and leftist Moslem and Christian forces in the country-varying Communist parties, the Syrian and Iraqi Ba’ath splinter groups, the Pan-Arabists, and elements of the Sh’ite community. These groups then aligned themselves with the Palestinians to augment their military strength.”
The National Movement saw the National Pact as “a conspiratorial covenant between a small band of oligarchs to perpetuate the socioeconomic dominance of the top 4 percent of society.” The Maronites, on the other hand, saw in deconfessionalism an attempt to establish Moslem majoritarian control in Lebanon, and in the demands for democratic majoritarian principles, a smokescreen for their destruction as a political community.
Meanwhile, the traditional Sunnite power structure, dominated by oligarchical families like the Salaams and Solhs of Beirut and the Karamis of TripolL was crumbling. The power and privileges of these traditional leaders had been perpetuated by the Moslem urban network of qadabais, or neighborhood strongmen, who in turn disciplined the “street.” But the urban-Moslem masses of the streets were rapidly emerging from a pre-modern state into a society marked by the classic modemization syndrome.of rising expectations and blunted aspirations. Their demands could not be met by the old network. Disillusioned by a corrupt and cynical leadership, they turned fickle. The National Movement and the Marxist parties absorbed the discontented intelligentsia into their militant ranks and the Palestinian commando organizations and the various Sunnite and Shi’ite militias were natural magnets for the qadabi network. By 1973, in Khalidi’s opinion, there was no Sunnite leader to deliver the Sunnite community, nor any Sunnite “community” to deliver.
In a country of many enigmatic personalities, Kamal Jumblatt himself stood out as a person of considerable mystery. Khalidi believes that Jumblatt honestly saw himself as a populist leader responsible for “initiating a new revolutionary surge in the entire Arab world based on a genuine grass-roots phenomenon, rather than the adventurism of a man on horseback or in a tank turret” But Khalidi cites the questions of others: was Jumblatt a man who resented the arrangements of the National Pact that blocked his deserved ascendancy to the presidency because he was a Druze? Was he a Machiavelliban oligarch who “chose to ride the tiger of a bloody political and constitutional reform (1789) rather than drift into the inferno of an October (1917)revolution?”
For Khalidi, the critical point of the Civil War occurred from February through March 1976, when the intransigence of Kamal Jumblatt sealed the fate of many of Lebanon’s inhabitants. To end the bloodletting begun at Ain Rummanah in April 1975, and to encourage a detente between the sects, President Suleiman Franiieh, under considerable Syrian pressure, offered a conciliatory document to the nation: the Constitutional Document of February 14, 1976. This proposal reaffirmed the sectarian distribution of the three presidential posts, but distributed parliamentary seats on a fifty-fifty basis and established appointments to the civil service and military on a merit rather than ethnic basis. This was, at the very least, a step in the right direction. But the National Movement dismissed the compromise as “a cynical exercise in cosmetic reform,” and while Jumblatt reluctantly agreed to the seventeen-point document in principle, he refused to participate in the selection of a cabinet that could enact the reforms.
Within weeks, dissident Moslem troops seized their barracks and declared their allegiance to the Arab Army of Lebanon led by a mutinous lieutenant Ahmed Khatib. Khalidi is characteristically careful in his analysis of this key event:
“It is common knowledge that neither the National Movement nor the Palestinians had been altogether innocent of this development. It is more likely that Jumblatt’s apparent vacillation over the cabinet issue since the 14 of February was in anticipation of the Army mutiny.”
The disintegration of the Lebanese Army was a long-dreaded nightmare come to pass. In 1976, the army was a small force of 19,000 men, 100 tanks, and 24 planes. Moslems had a 5 3 to 47 percent edge in the ranks; on the officer level eighteen of thirty-seven senior posts were held by Moslems; but the Maronites had a decisive, 65 to 35 percent edge on the important battalion level. The “battle of the barracks” saw the army split fairly evenly between the Moslem and Maronite forces, with a large number of senior officers remaining neutral. (These officers are one source of hope for the reconstitution of a new sectarian version of the National Army so desperately needed now.)
The army had for a long time been the butt of jokes that ridiculed its fecklessness. Gordon relates one: a Maronite Major visits a front platoon that has stopped fighting. He asks the lieutenant, a Greek Catholic, why the soldiers aren’t fighting. “One of our men was just killed,” the lieutenant explains, ” and we are waiting for three Maronites, two Sunnis, two Greek Orthodox, one Armenian, and a Druze to be killed before we resume action.” Yet in Khalidi’s opinion the Army was the only national institution that had saved the nation in the past In the vacuum left after its disintegration, the sectarian hatreds were totally free to rip apart the delicate, some say artificial, mosaic of Lebanon.
In March 1976, Jumblatt, now backed by the artillery of Khatib’s army units, entered upon full-scale hostilities, “to change the system in the framework of a total revolution.” Kamal Jumblatt’s insistence on a “total and irreversible military campaign” created panic among the Maronites as the National Movement forces drove deep into their territory. Many of them fled to Cyprus.
Now, in April 1976, the Syrians intervened. Syria was alarmed by the rejection of the Franjieh/Syrian inspired reforms and by the fighting which threatened both Lebanese and Syrian stability. Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad asked to meet Jumblatt in Damascus, a three-hour drive from Beirut. Adeed 1. Dawisha, the author of Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, gives this account of the meeting of March 27, 1976. It was a seven-hour deadlock. In President Asad’s view, the Franjieh document met the National Movement goals more than half way, it was as far as a Maronite President could go without completely alienating his co-religionists. But Jumblatt wanted more, and intoxicated by his military successes he spurned Syria’s suggestions that he be more moderate and realistic.
Indeed, upon his return to Beirut, Jumblatt issued a particularly offensive statement thanking the Syrian President for his luncheon invitation and hoping to reciprocate soon in Bikfaya-the ancestral hometown of the Maronite Gemayel family. Jumblate’s demeaning remark is significant Dawisha recounts that Asad was convinced that for Jumblatt political change was “not a question of left or right as we have been told, nor of progressive or reactionary, or Moslem against Christian, but a question of vengeance, a 140-year-old vendetta, between Druze and Maronite.”
To many Westerners, it may seem puzzling that Syria should intervene in Lebanese affairs-and in support of the Maronites rather than the Moslems. But Syria has been attentive to Lebanese affairs for many years, and Syrians like to note that the King Crane Commission set up by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 recommended that Lebanon be given “considerable local autonomy but only as a constituent part of a larger Syrian state.”
Dawisha’s book, based on a wide range of primary source material and extensive interviews with Syrian officials, provides valuable insight into the thinking of Syria’s elite. By linking the actual events in Lebanon to ” the changing levels of threat perception by Syrian decision makers,” it makes clear that Syria felt itself threatened by two distinct traumas.
The first was the spectre of Maronite partition, the retreat to Mount Lebanon by the Christians. Why was this so disturbing. Because Asad’s military regime is a minority Alawite government (Alawites are an esoteric Shi’ite sect) in a Sunnite (Orthodox) country. Syria’s Sunnis are upset by Alawite rule and by the secularism socialist Ba’ath ideology of Asad’s government. When the Asad government supported the Shi’ite government of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the Moslem Brotherhood opposition to the Ba’ath staged massive, violent antigovernment demonstrations in the Sunni city of Hama. The city was surrounded by the Syrian forces under the command of Asad’s brother and completely levelled and the population massacred. (This was accomplished with virtually no publicity. The Western press was forcibly prevented from entering the city for months. When finally viewed, it was a ruin. Reliable estimates of the dead run as high as 10,000.)
Asad is obviously very concerned about his country’s minority-majority sectarian schisms. He fears that the partition of Lebanon on his border would have a negative contagion effect and encourage dissident sects in Syria to seek regional autonomy, thereby destabilizing his rule. Moreover, his Ba’athist ideas about Arab unity oppose the further “Balkanization” of the Middle East, especially if this were to happen along religious lines. Asad is also worried that a Maronite partition of Lebanon would vindicate the establishment of the State of Israel and would expose the conceptual and operational weaknesses of the “secular, democratic state” thesis of the PLO and “rejectionist” Arab forces led by Syria.
But all these fears, however real, were overshadowed by the military threat which would be posed by a Jurnblatt victory. Asad believed that the success of the National Movement/ Palestinian forces would immediately trigger an Israeli strike aimed at annexing Southern Lebanon. This would provide Israel not only with a buffer zone, but with easy access to Damascus. Dawisha notes that the Syrians were also worried that a National Movement State would threaten their own interests by providing a base for Iraqi Ba’ath intrigues and an alternative, more attractive, recipient of Soviet aid. Such a client could offer the Soviets a Mediterranean littoral for their naval bases. Dawisha reveals the care with which the Syrians sought to communicate their limited interventionist aims to the Israelis through American diplomatic intermediaries, precisely to forestall such an Israeli attack.
Accordingly, as Jurnblatt became more powerful and internecine strife increased, the Syrians attempted to play a classic balance-of-power role in the Lebanese Civil War. To contain the conflicts they intervened first on behalf of the Maronites and a unified state when Jumblatt refused to relent on Ws “siege” of the National Pact. Then, several weeks later, they intervened on behalf of the National Movement/Palestinian axis when the Maronite Phalangists, encouraged by the Israelis and the Syrians themselves, became intoxicated after their destruction of Tel Zaatar. Then, several months later the Syrians intervened once again on behalf of the ” integrity of Lebanon,” when the leftists threatened to overwhelm the Christians. Thus, the Syrians came in cautiously playing what Khalidi termed a “push and pause” strategy that was overcome by the countering ” come and get me if you can” techniques of the National Movement until the world was treated to the spectacle of two of the most natural allies in the radical, rejectionist Arab world, the PLO and the Syrians, ripping each other to shreds. If s easy to see why, as Khalidi notes, the Israelis looked upon the Civil War in Lebanon as “manna from heaven.”
To try to defeat the Palestinians, the Syrians first split off the PLO’s Shi’ite allies. Then they introduced the Saiqa (Thunderbolt), Syrian-controlled PLO organization into Lebanon and promoted its leader Zuhar Muhsin as a rival leader to challenge Arafat Finally they brought in the Hittin Division of the Palestine Liberation Army complete with its armored tank forces. But by June 1976, Khalidi estimates, 40 percent of these forces, which had been raised by conscription among the 300,000 Palestinians living in Syria, defected to Arafat’s PLO.
Syria’s intervention into Lebanon was thus costly and embarrassing. Syria ultimately sent in over 12,000 of its regular army forces, and even before they occupied Beirut they had lost over 1500 men. The war cost them one million dollars a day to pursue. To make matters worse, the war isolated Syria from the larger Arab world and meant the loss of substantial subsidies from Saudi Arabia. Internall, over four hundred people were arrested, many of whom were loyal Ba’ath Party members and military men who opposed only the incursion.
The Palestinian Role
Why did the PLO involve itself so deeply with Jumblates National Movement? At first, in fact, the PLO tried to stay aloof from Lebanon’s sectarian conflict, despite their awareness that the Maronites wanted them exiled or destroyed and had used their mere presence as an excuse to arm their militias. Even after the Ain Rummanah massacre of Palestinians by Maronites, Yasser Arafat tried to adhere to the 1969 Cairo Agreement, in which the PLO had pledged not to interfere in Lebanese domestic politics. Nevertheless, the Jumblatt forces actively sought PLO involvement; they meant to use the PLO as their military lever to secure a secular, revolutionary Lebanese state. The PLO did not at once, or unanimously, embrace their cause. Khalidi, Gordon, and Dawisha all indicate that while the “rejectionist” organizations in the PLO, for example George Habash and Naif Hawetmeh’s forces (numbering only some one thousand men) enthusiastically joined Jumblatt, Arafat held back. But after the Tel Zataar mas sacres and the Phalangist attacks on other refugee camps (including Dbaiyeh, a Maronite Palestinian camp) Arafat took the fateful step of allying the PLO with the National Movement. Later, Saab Salaam, a conservative Sunni Moslem and a former Prime Minister, had this to say: “The gravest mistake our Palestinian brothers made was that they allowed Jumblatt to appear as if he was their spokesman… while in fact, Jumblatt’s objectives are quite different from the Palestinian revolution and resistance.”
Could Arafat have avoided this path? Khalidi is circumspect in answering this question, particularly as to whether Arafat’s hand was forced by the more radical wing of his PLO. He states that although Arafat’s position within Fatah leadership was that of primus inter pares, in moments of extreme crisis Arafat did have the power and the prestige to impose his will on both the Palestinian Rejection Front and the National Movement “That he was sometimes averse to exercising this leverage was as much a reflection of his innate propensity to temporize as of his tactical perceptions of the moment.” But Khalidi also argues that PLO involvement might have been inevitable. The PLO believed that every Arab nation had the duty and responsibility to assist the Palestinian struggle despite the costs of Israeli “deterrence by punishment.” The PLO saw no reason why Lebanon should be an exception.
The Palestinian presence in Lebanon first became a serious Lebanese political issue in 1966, when a Palestinian commando, Jalal Kawash, was allegedly tortured by Lebonese security forces. Then, in 1968, a Lebanese commando serving with the PLO was killed crossing the border, and his funeral became the occasion for huge demonstrations of Shi’ite, Sunnite and Palestinian solidarity. This coalition, which demanded free access to the border for PLO infiltrators, formed the nucleus of what would eventually become one mainstay of the National movement The time inevitably came when the PLO had to pay its debt for Lebanese support.
However, the decision to put the PLO’s prestige and military power on the line for the National Movement inevitably meant confrontation with the Syrians. The Syrian-Palestinian tension predated the Lebanese Civil War and went back to “Black September” of 1970, when the PLO felt betrayed and abandoned by the Syrians. The Syrians had promised the PLO military and logistical support, but once it became clear that the Jordanian military, many of whom were Palestinian, particularly in the Air Force, would not defect, Syria hung back and allowed Hussein to rout the PLO. Reliable experts indicate that some 25,000 Palestinians were killed in this fighting!
Despite what Dawisha terms Asad’s “sad reluctance” to commit Syrian troops to Lebanon, fighting between Syrian and Palestinian forces was fierce and bitter. When PLO activists seized a hotel in Damascus to protest the Syrian “betrayal,” they were captured and summarily hanged in a public square. By the time Syrian tanks finally entered Beirut, the PLO had lost some 3,000 of their elite troops and 20 percent of their military leaders. The heads of their radical Rejection F ront were forced to flee to Baghdad for asylum.
With the PLO is disarray, at least temporarily, the Syrians thought they had almost re-established the traditional balance of power in Lebanon. Only the National Front remained a threat. Then, in March 1977, Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated. No one took credit for the act, just as no one would take credit for Beshir Gemayel’s death five years later. Jumblatt was succeeded by his son Walid who, like his father before him, was unwilling to sacrifice Lebanon on behalf of the PLO, even while asking the PLO to sacrifice itself for the National Movement. Walid, however, is a much weaker figure than his father, and he was obliged to tone down the National Movement’s demands and reconcile with the Syrians.
Aftermath of the Civil War
The Civil War left Lebanon exhausted and the PLO severely weakened. In July, 1977, the PLO signed the Chataura Agreement with the Syrians and the Lebanese Government, pledging to suspend its operations against Israel from across the Lebanese border and to redeploy its forces at least six miles from the Israeli border. Khalidi argues that the PLO made a moral gesture on behalf of all the people of Lebanon (albeit under duress) by accepting these restraints on its military capacities.
For their part, the Israelis seem to have had little regard for the convalescing Lebanon. Their main concern was to prevent the “reactivization” of their northern border, and to this end they intensified their military links with the Maronite hardliners. What Menachem Begin claimed was an effort “to protect the Christians from genocide,” Khalidi sees as the pursuit of an old objective-partition of Lebanon, or the establishment of a Christian dominated state that would expel the Palestinians and recognize Israel.
Thus, at a time when the reconstruction of a Lebanese National Army was crucial, Israel pursued alternative plans. It sought to control the border area by proxy through the forces of Major Saad Haddad, who had been an officer in the regular Lebanese Army before its disintegration and who bitterly resented the Syrian and PLO presence in his country. He denounced the Chataura Agreement as “a trap” and, supported by Israeli artillery, began several ma or offenses to undermine it.
When Haddad’s troops were routed in an attack (against Syrians and the PLO) on the Khardali Bridge, on September 14, 1977, Israeli troops were sent to assist him. The cycle of attack and counterattack began again The Palestinians began to shell Israeli towns in Lebanon. On November 6, 1977, three Israeli citizens were killed in a rocket attack on Nahariya. Israel’s retaliatory air strikes were prompt and severe, killing over one hundred Lebanese civilians, most of them Shi’ite Moslems.
Five months later, Palestinian terrorists launched an attack on the coastal road between Haifa and Tyre. They came by sea, thus technically complying with the Chataura Agreement Their forces killed thirty-four civilians and wounded seventy-eight others. Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided to retaliate on an entirely new scale and ordered a massive Israeli invasion, pledging to “liquidate” the PLO, a plan his government is still trying to implement.
The 1978 Israeli invasion shattered the fragile peace in Lebanon and is estimated to have taken the lives of several thousand Lebanese and about 500 Palestinians. About 100 largely Shi’ite villages were destroyed in the area south of the Litani River and the new Lebanese refugees numbered some 250,000. Though announced as a campaign to secure a six-mile wide 46 security belt,” the invasion ended with Israel occupying 425 square miles, or about one-tenth of the country’s total area.
Why did the United States acquiesce to the Israel-Haddad alliance? Khalidi believes that the U.S. believed that there would be an advantage in retaining a “fulcrum of pressure inside Lebanon against Asad and Arafat.” Writing in 1979, he observed with &ad prescience that – Washington would 6 6 not be altogether blameless if the Haddad time-bomb explodes with a louder bang than in March, 1978.” This is precisely what happened in April, 1982.
Seen against this larger background, the most recent Israeli invasion can be understood not simply as an attempt to liquidate the PLO, and thus to intimidate West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, but as a continuation of Israel’s policy of fueling sectarian strife in Lebanon. With Beshir Gemayel’s death, Israel’s hopes for an independent peace treaty with Lebanon are as remote as ever. The invasion once again shows that military prowess cannot dictate political and diplomatic victories.
What, then, does the future hold? First of all, it is clear that Lebanon cannot become a stable, independent country as long as at least three external forces-the Syrians, the PLO, and the Israelis-have a vested interest in keeping Lebanon in a state of turmoil. Whether the United States and other interested parties will ever be able to exert enough pressure on these three forces to keep them out of Lebanon remains entirely uncertain.
Within Lebanon, we are left with the problems of sectarian strife, class struggle, and the traumas of modernization. Any one of these would be problem enough, but all three together are a recipe for continuing chaos. Indeed, though the present situation is often spoken of as a time of opportunity, we must realize that each bout of bloody civil war makes reconciliation ever more difficult Will the relatives of Palestinians killed in the recent massacres, for example, ever forgive the Phalangists? Four years ago, after the 1978 Israeli invasion, Khalidi wrote that with ” the very hideousness of their wounds, with the promise of still more to come, some collective survival instinct seems to be stirring among the Lebanese and beckoning them away’ from their lemming race.” Those words carry a bitter irony in the aftermath of this year’s terrible bloodletting.
Still, as William Quandt, formerly a National Security Council expert on the Middle East, recently asserted, “left alone the Lebanese genius for compromise could reassert itself.” What are some specific measures that might lead to a workable solution?
Walid Khalidi suggests that to improve on F.ranjieh’s 50-50 vision of the Parliament and to reassure the Maronite community, it might be wise to offer what he palls “the principle of concurrent majorities”–i.e., the requirement for a majority vote within each community on selected vital issues, such as defense. He also offers the idea of a new Constitutional Document outlining more balance between the prerogatives of the President and the Prime Minister while retaining the communal privilege of both the Maronites and the Sunnites. (But this recommendation overlooks the Shi’ite community, which will have to be reassured.) Some urge the adoption of universal suffrage for presidential elections, while others, like Ghassan Tuenii, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the U.N., argue for a new federalism that would acknowledge the decentralization of power that has resulted from the internal migrations of the last decade.
The international peace-keeping force now in Lebanon will try to preserve a cease-fire within which corn-promise can be negotiated and achieved. But the wounds of the latest fighting are still fresh, and the Maronites, Sunnis, Shi’ites, Druze and Palestinians still confront each other with open distrust and a passion for revenge. Maronite Christians still insist that security must precede reform, while most Moslems argue that re ‘ form must precede security. The armies of Israel and Syria still occupy much of the country, and the PLO is still a force to be reckoned with. Under these circumstances, Amin Gemayel, much more moderate than his assassinated brother, will try to appease all parties and raise enough money to rebuild his desolated country.
The first task for Gernayel will be to ensure his government’s monopoly over the classic forms of state control -the power to raise an army and to I levy taxes. He must disarm his late brother’s militia and integrate them into a reconstituted, deconfessionalized national army that is both effective as an internal police force and strong enough to satisfy Israel that the PLO will not move south, by either land or sea. Moreover, the new Lebanese Army must be able to assure the Syrians that the Israelis will not threaten Damascus with a blitzkrieg across Lebanese territory. (As we go to press, it appears that the United State’s will be sending a Military Assistance Group to Beirut to begin the task of arming and training the Lebanese Army.)
At the same time, Gemayel must also reconstruct Beirut, not only physically, but in such a manner as to decentralize his government’s power and to share decision-making with the different regions of Lebanon. He must also end the private banking and the profiteering of the extensive black market that have supplanted the Lebanese national economy. And finally, Gemayel-must transcend his Maronite roots and extend full national rights to all confessional groups, particularly the Shi’ites-who form the single largest religious sect in Lebanon.
The external actors who have abused Lebanon for so many years must also realize that their own self-interests are now at stake. Even if some Israeli leaders feel betrayed by ‘the Phalangist refusal to enter West Beirut, more and more Israelis recognize that they cannot determine the future Lebanese government. If the murder of Suleiman Franjieh’s son, Tony, in 1978, by Israel’s Phalangist allies, gave an explicit message to the Syrians who supported Franjieh, that a Pax Syriana was impossible, this debt was repaid when the assassination of Beshir ended the dream of a Pax Israeli.
The ostensible reason for the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon (intimidation of the West Bank aside) was “Peace for the Galilee. ” But many reflective Israelis now understand that the peace of their northern border region is actually endangered by continual involvement in the quagmire of Lebanon’s sectarian politics because it upsets Israel’s own sectarian balance. For , Israel, one ironic and dangerous cost of the invasion has been the alienation of their Druze citizens, the backbone of their famed border patrol; distraught over Israel’s battles with the Druze on behalf of the Maronites, many Israeli Druze have begun draft resistance activity.
Syria, too, will have to withdraw from. the Bekaa Valley. They will have to leave behind their lucrative hashish trafficking in exchange for relief from the nightmare of Israeli invasion. Both Israel and Syria want a solution for the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, and perhaps it can be arranged as part of a mutual withdrawal from Lebanon.
This leaves the vital and urgent Palestinian issue. President Gemayel will have to convince the 500,000 Palestinian civilians in Lebanon that his government can ensure their security without the presence of the armed PLO—not an easy task in the aftermath of the Shatilla and Sabra massacres. The Palestinians will either have to be integrated into Lebanese society as citizens, a solution no other Arab nation has agreed to, or repatriated by negotiation to a Palestinian national homeland. This is the dilemma that continues to confront all reasonable parties to the conflict. However, without a solution to the Palestinian problem, it will be extremely difficult for this country to achieve its long sought national identity and independence.
Originally published in the December 1982 issue of Boston Review