Beyond the battle for west Beirut
Looking beyond the Beirut evacuation, American analysts are staring at an array of Middle East problems that would tax the talents of ten Philip Habibs.
President Reagan's negotiator in Lebanon, Philip Habib, has put together a plan designed to end the fighting in Lebanon and to get the leaders and fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organizaton (PLO) out of Beirut.
That's been no easy task. But most specialists on the subject here now seem to think the chances are excellent that the evacuation will begin.
Any one of a number of factions or parties might disrupt that evacuation. State Department specialists are holding their breath over this part of the plan. They think Mr. Habib can pull it off. But what then?
The Israelis think the Americans ought to be grateful for what they've done in Lebanon -- weakening the PLO and, in the Israeli view, applying the pressure that is forcing the PLO to leave Beirut.
Most Arab leaders, for their part, seem to think that the Americans now should be able not only to get the Israelis out of Lebanon. The US, they say, also should be able to pressure Israel into making concessions on the future of the Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan River, who have been under Israeli occupation since 1967.
As a number of US officials see it, both the Israelis and the Arabs are wrong. Former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. maintained that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon opened new opportunities. But other officials say that very much remains to be seen.
In their view, a combination of old Middle East problems and new ones created by the invasion, if unresolved, could set back the cause of peace in the Middle East over the long run.
For starters, US officials think it will be no easy task to build a strong Lebanese central government and to get the Israeli army and the remaining Syrian forces in the eastern part of the country out of Lebanon.
Those who say the US can simply arrange this are wrong, officials here say. They say that it depends on the ability of the fractious Lebanese to pull themselves together and assert a central authority over the country.
Such US officials see some hope that the Israelis will withdraw from Lebanon because of the cost a lengthy occupation would entail, both in funds and in Israeli domestic politics.
Some specialists outside the US government, such as Judith Kipper, at the American Enterprise Institute, think the Israelis and Syrians have a strategic interest in staying in Lebanon. They also think the de facto partition of Lebanon between the Syrians and Israelis that now exists is likely to be deepened and perpetuated unless US diplomacy proves to be more effective and farsighted than it has thus far proven to be.
If Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Maronite Christian militias which are allied with Israel, and who seems to be the Israeli's choice for president of Lebanon, is elected to that post, it could lead to a renewal of civil war in that country , in the view of a number of specialists outside the US government.
Looking at old problems, State Department officials see a need to get moving again toward an autonomy agreement for the West Bank Palestinians. These officials are prepared to argue that having secured its northern flank, Israel ought to feel more secure and thus capable of making concessions on the autonomy issue. But given the nature of the Begin government in Israel, they do not really expect this to happen.
Indeed, there is an expectation on the part of some that the Israelis will harden their occupation of the West Bank. This, in turn, might cause a further ''radicalization'' of young Palestinians. This phenomenon might not damage the US or Israel in the short run, but it could have long-term negative effects.
As the State Department sees it, the Arabs who are now looking to the US for solution must begin to look to themselves.
The US is likely to put forth some new ideas on West Bank autonomy, try to get the Begin government to stop expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank, appoint a new high-level negotiator, and reaffirm United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory in return for peace.
The administration is certain to try to secure a greater degree of advanced consultation with Israel than it obtained prior to the Lebanon invasion. But none of this is likely to get the Begin government, which is riding high on increased Israeli public support, to be more yielding on the West Bank.
As State Department analysts see it, Arab governments to the east of Israel must present the Begin government with clear-cut peace initiatives. These, in turn, would open a new debate within the Israeli public over where to go from here.
Some of the Arabs have been edging in this direction, but the Arabs are sharply divided among themselves.
The possibility of the Reagan administration applying the kind of heavy pressure on Israel that Arabs are looking for is not likely.
For one thing, such pressure is unlikely to be effective in any immediate sense. The Israelis have shown that they are now armed beyond the capability of any combination of Arab armies to challenge them. Moreover, US elections in November pose a tough challenge for the Republican Party. Given the influence of the organized Jewish community in this country, the elections will almost certainly play a role in the way President Reagan deals with Israel.
Perhaps most important, the President has shown that despite his recent criticisms of Israel, his basic sympathy with Israel's attitudes, actions, and objectives remains unchanged.
Reagan clearly was angered over the civilian casualties caused by Israeli bombing and shelling. But he has invariably combined criticism with a defense of the basic Israeli point of view on Lebanon. In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the President revealed that however much he may criticize Israeli bombing, the PLO has not grown in his esteem. He seems to think that with the PLO out of Beirut, West Bank Palestinians, free from PLO intimidation, may come to support Palestinian leaders outside the PLO who would then compromise with the Israelis.
This runs contrary to the evidence amassed by a number of American specialists, which shows that despite its dark side, the PLO does have a base of popular support and that quislings for the Israelis will be hard to find.