Changing Resolution 242 - hardly as simple as it sounds
At first glance, it all sounds deceptively simple: A little tinkering with a UN resolution, and the Lebanon crisis and Palestinian issue are on their way to being resolved.
Some press reports from both Beirut and Washington suggest that the key to overcoming the Lebanon crisis lies in a revision of, or amendment to, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. France, with the support of Egypt, is proposing a new resolution which would take more account of Palestinian rights than does Resolution 242, which was voted on 15 years ago.
But the United States is not in a mood to bargain on this matter right at this critical juncture. Although US officials do not say so publicly and explicitly, they fear that any revision of, or amendment to, Resolution 242 might alienate Israel and provoke Israel either into further military action in Lebanon or into extending its control over the West Bank.
But in the words of one US official, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is in West Beirut ''trying to extract political victory from the jaws of disaster.'' PLO officials have hinted that if a UN resolution can be passed which recognizes the ''legitimate rights'' of the Palestine people, including their right to ''self-determination,'' then the PLO will withdraw from Lebanon, as the Americans and Israelis have been urging.
At the moment, however, the US is likely to veto any proposed resolution which departs sharply from the language of the Camp David agreements and which mentions explicitly ''self-determination'' - a phrase, which, to Middle East specialists, means an independent Palestinian state carved out of territory now held by Israel. The Camp David accords use the more ambiguous and limited term ''autonomy'' in reference to the Palestinians.
PLO leaders have also indicated that they would like to open direct talks with the United States. But Dean Fischer, the State Department spokesman, reiterated the standard US position on that issue July 21. Fischer said that the Americans will ''not recognize or negotiate with the PLO until that organization has accepted two UN Security Council resolutions, 242 and 338, and recognizes Israel's right to exist.''
Those two resolutions, in effect, trade Arab recognition of the state of Israel for withdrawal of the Israelis from Arab territories occupied in the 1967 war.
The US has actually had a number of contacts with the PLO, concerning practical matters, over the years. In 1976, for example, security officers in the American embassy in Beirut had to negotiate with PLO security men in order to get PLO protection for the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon which took place in that year.
Contrary to State Department denials, President Reagan has apparently authorized special envoy Philip Habib to talk directly with the PLO concerning the crisis in Beirut, if he finds it necessary to do so.