Diplomacy deadlocked as Lebanon is redrawn
Diplomacy in Lebanon is being blocked as often as the roads into west Beirut.
In the ensuing deadlock, the fighting here has intensified and Israel has continued to consolidate its position in southern Lebanon. Under this Israeli umbrella, the mainly Christian factions (the Phalange and the forces of Maj. Saad Haddad) are linking up with each other and extending their influence through the southern region.
Meanwhile, Israel is conducting a vigorous war of attrition against the Palestine Liberation Organization guerrillas in west Beirut - and the suffering of the half million civilians also trapped in the western part of this city goes on unabated. Artillery pounds PLO redoubts almost constantly while Israeli tanks creep forward on the edge of the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj Al Barajneh.
Though United States envoy Philip C. Habib is vigorously pursuing negotiations aimed at getting the 5,000 to 6,000 PLO leaders and guerrillas out of Lebanon, each initiative so far has been stymied. One or another party has rejected:
1. The Reagan administration proposal to send ships and marines to evacuate the PLO and patrol west Beirut.
2. A French offer to do likewise. (The Greeks have also offered to provide ship transportation for the Palestinians).
3. A plan for the Lebanese Army to take control of west Beirut and for the Palestinians to disarm.
4. A proposal that Syria accept the PLO guerrillas. Syria said this weekend that it would only let PLO leaders set up a headquarters.
5. Proposals that small military and political contingents of PLO members remain in Lebanon.
PLO leaders themselves and their leftist Lebanese allies still refused July 11 to discuss leaving the country until the Israeli Army withdraws from the Beirut area and a peacekeeping contingent is installed to separate Palestinian and Israeli forces.
Conversely, Israel refuses to accept anything less than total, unconditional evacuation of the PLO from Lebanon. Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted Sunday as saying that Israel would agree to withdraw its troops only if all Palestinian and Syrian forces, down to the last man, left Lebanon.
Israeli leaders are reported to be increasingly concerned that the PLO leaders are stalling for time. After Sunday's Cabinet meeting, an official claimed that Mr. Habib's negotiations were not bringing any results. When asked how much longer Israel would wait before stepping up military action, the official was reported as saying, ''Not for long.''
But Israel is still reluctant to mount the big push to take over west Beirut, knowing how vicious the battle will be. The publication of a new opinion poll showing that 68 percent of Israelis oppose an all-out attack on the guerrillas holed up here in west Beirut is also likely to have some impact on the Begin government. (Seen from here, the poll will probably increase the PLO tendency to hang on.)
So the Israeli forces have been digging themselves in for a long stay in Lebanon. Tactics so far indicate that Israel plans to engage in an encroachment campaign against the PLO in west Beirut and possibly also against the Syrians in the Bekaa Valley. At some point Israel may open up both or either front to all-out war. Meanwhile, Israel's superior firepower and control of the high ground enable it to put constant pressure on its foes with only a minor commitment of front-line soldiers.
Israeli officers late last week told the Monitor they are planning to minimize contact with civilians throughout southern Lebanon now that that region has been mostly brought under Israeli control. At the same time, work is proceeding on what appear to be quite permament Israeli Army camps and outposts throughout the south.
Bulldozers are clearing land. Semi-permanent structures are being erected. Even pre-printed Hebrew-lettered highway signs have been posted. Israeli produce is available in southern Lebanese fruit stands. And Israeli troops are everywhere, shuttling back and forth on big red buses of the Israeli Egged Bus Company.
The biggest Israeli camp appears to be one being established at Zahrani, south of Sidon. Other camps can be seen along the coastal highway near Tyre, Damour, Khalde, and in the mountainous south central Shouf region and the southeastern Arkoub region.
Near Beirut, Israel seems to have thinned out its troop strength, using tanks and cannons to pressure the PLO but so far not actually sending assault forces in to capture large chunks of the city. Using fewer and smaller cannons and Katyusha field rockets, the Palestinians have done considerably less damage.
More and more of Beirut was being sucked into the destruction. Palestinian artillery July 11 fired directly at east Beirut's Hotel Alexandre. The attack injured a British embassy employee, caused journalists staying at the hotel to run for cover, and emptied the streets of the heretofore untouched Ashrafiyeh district of Christian east Beirut. Baabda, Yarze, and Hazmieh also were being hit more often by Palestinian guns. The former two cities are locations of the Lebanese President's residences and the other is where the temporary American Embassy has been established.
Meanwhile, as Israel has tightened its grip on south Lebanon, the pro-Israeli Phalange (mainly Christian) has increased its presence in Sidon and has begun to make itself felt in Tyre. There it has linked up with the pro-Israeli forces (also mainly Christian) of Major Haddad in far southern Lebanon. All over Sidon and Tyre one sees the stenciled spearpoint emblem of the Phalange.