Reconciliation in Lebanon may prove even more elusive than a cease-fire
Now that the long-awaited cease-fire has stopped the fighting in the Shouf mountains, Lebanon's feuding factions face the far more difficult task of reconciliation.
Central to the cease-fire agreement is a call for an urgent conference of all key Lebanese political factions, along with Saudi and Syrian representatives. The conference will ultimately try to work out a new formula for power sharing which addresses Muslim claims of Christian predominance.
The first step - a government of national reconciliation which has been predicted by Lebanese presidential adviser Ghassan Tueni - may already be on the way. Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan offered his resignation Monday in order to clear the way for ''formation of a national-unity Cabinet to undertake the rebuilding of the homeland.'' Mr. Wazzan had been opposed by Syria and Lebanese opposition groups who considered him too acquiescent toward the Lebanese-Israeli accord of May 17.
Their refusal to include him in the talks held up a cease-fire for some days. President Amin Gemayel has asked him to stay on for now, but his move is seen as the first gesture toward a national dialogue.
According to American special envoy Robert McFarlane, the United States will continue to lend its ''good offices'' to encourage dialogue and make sure the conference results are seriously considered by the government. Mr. McFarlane would not set a date for departure of US marines, but said they would ''stay for a while.''
But Lebanon's past failures to change the religious confession-based power sharing pact of 1943 indicate that the current attempt is likely to be long and arduous. It will be complicated by the presence of Israeli and Syrian troops in south and eastern Lebanon.
And informed Western sources say in private that maneuvering through the Lebanese political thicket may be even trickier for the US in the next political round than it was in the last military one.
Many details of the cease-fire and the ensuing reconciliation conference remain vague. It is not yet clear who will police the cease-fire. The Lebanese have approached the United Nations, as well as Italy and France - but not the US - for neutral observers. A committee of the Lebanese Army, along with representatives of Christian, Muslim, and Druze militias which have been fighting, will lay down arrangements for the cease-fire.
The exact date, length, and venue of the conference also remain uncertain. Informed sources say a preparatory conference could take several months. Despite reports the conference will be held in Saudi Arabia, senior US officials now believe it may be held in Lebanon. There would be overwhelming security considerations for such a gathering, because it would include several men who have been targets of assassination attempts.
Participants will include representatives of the same factions that will probably be represented in a national reconciliation government: Christian leader Suleiman Franjieh, Muslim Rashid Karami, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt of the pro-Syrian opposition National Salvation Front, Maronite Christian leaders Camille Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel of the Lebanese Front, Shiite leader Nabih Berri of the Shiite Amal movement, as well as venerable Moslem leader Sa'eb Salaam, Shiite Adel Osieran, and Christian Raymond Edde.
President Gemayel and his delegation will not be direct parties to the talks, but rather serve as ''the inviting party.'' This is seen here as a face-saving way of handling Syria's refusal to accept the government's first choice of delegates, Mr. Wazzan and House Speaker Kamal Assad.
The new urgency attached to internal dialogue reflects a reversal of emphasis from previous Lebanese government and US attempts to solve Lebanon's problems. Over the past year, efforts at internal dialogue took a back seat to attempts to get Syrian and Israeli troops out of Lebanon. But with the failure of these efforts, and the likelihood that this question will be not resolved for some time to come, both the Lebanese and the Americans recognized the urgent need to pull Lebanon together internally.
The reasons were several:
* The need to prevent Lebanon from dividing internally into cantons, especially in Christian and Druze Muslim areas, because of increasingly violent intercommunal disputes.
* The need to bridge the ever-widening Christian-Muslim divide which helped fuel the Shouf war.
* The need to give unified backing to the one multi-confessional institution on which many Lebanese pin their hopes for unity - the reconstituted Lebanese Army.
* The hope that by unifying internally the Lebanese nation could present a stronger front in negotiations for troop withdrawals with both the Israelis and the Syrians.
But the difficulties of negotiating the kind of new power-sharing arrangement which is a prerequisite for national unity are not underestimated. At present Christians, who are a minority in the country, are guaranteed a 60-55 ratio in parliament and the government bureaucracy, as well as control of most government economic institutions. They also dominate the top Army ranks and security services. While the Army is now shifting the ratio in officers' schools to 60-40 Muslim-Christian, reflecting the estimated population balance in a country where no census has been taken since 1932, this ratio will take years to redress.
Lebanese opposition groups for now are not asking to change the religious basis of top government offices which give the presidency to a Maronite Christian, the prime ministership to a Sunni Muslim, and the House speakership to a Shiite Muslim. But they do want to abolish the 60-55 ratio.
A major question is whether the Maronite Christian leadership, based on a weakened but still potent Lebanese Forces militia, will accept this. A senior US official said Monday that this would be the major sticking point in a political dialogue. ''It's going to take a lot of shouting matches, trading, and perhaps violence,'' the official said. ''The alternatives are very stark, either future reconciliation or partition.''
US officials are said to be urging such changes in power sharing on President Gemayel, whose father, Pierre, heads the Maronite Christian Phalangist Party and is a key leader in the right-wing Christian Lebanese Front.
Should the conferees agree on a compromise, they will still face another hurdle - convincing their followers. ''We will see how much the men meeting with the president will be able to commit the communities they represent,'' said Ambassador Tueni.
Moreover, the opposition has already expressed doubts about whether the government will carry out recommendations when and if they emerge from any dialogue. The US and Saudi Arabia, according to a senior US official, have offered their ''good offices'' to encourage adoption of such suggestions, but whether this would be sufficient encouragement cannot be known.
US officials have indicated they will oppose Lebanese abrogation of the May 17 accord between Israel and Lebanon - which is opposed by Syria and its Lebanese allies - if this issue is raised at the conference. But one Western source suggested that the issue might die as the accord remains dormant and unratified.
US officials have given much of the credit for arranging the cease-fire to ''assertive diplomacy'' by the Saudi emissary, Prince Bandar ibn Sultan. Western diplomatic sources suggest that the Syrians may finally have accepted the last formula so as not to offend the Syrians, and US officials have spoken in very conciliatory tones about understanding Syrian interests in Lebanon.
The final formula for the conference involves compromises by both the government - on who would participate - and the Syrians - on allowing the Lebanese Army to keep its positions in the Shouf mountains. The formula also guarantees the Syrians that their interests will be considered substantially in the proceedings. Some observers here also believe that the US commitment to prevent the fall of Souk al Gharb may have convinced the Syrians and their Druze allies that they had played their hand out as far as was profitable and the time had come to compromise.