A surprising byproduct of the Israeli devastation of Lebanon has been the apparent belief among not a few U.S. officials and analysts that the carnage, though regrettable, may somehow lead to new stability for the region.
But no one who knows the area and its problems now doubts that the "peace process," whatever is left of it, has been dealt a massive blow, or that the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians and Lebanese in particular, are further away from any accommodation with Israel than they have ever been.
In just a few days of savage military fury, Israel managed to kill and maim more than 20,000 civilians, many of them women and children, make hundreds of thousands more homeless and turn two major cities and several towns and villages into rubble heaps.
The very ease with which Israeli armored columns sliced through southern Lebanon proved that, contrary to Israeli claims, the area did not harbor a huge Palestinian military concentration. The existing cadres of the PLO in south Lebanon, moreover, had for months closely observed the cease-fire concluded last year. The few instances of Palestinian shelling of northern Israel came only after heavy air attacks on Palestinian refugee camps and Beirut.
That Israel had massed large forces along Lebanon's border for several months, waiting for "provocations," shreds the argument that Israelis had to be rescued from the depradations of guerrillas across the frontier. And when it came to the cease-fire itself, Israel's concept of it was so outrageous as to render it meaningless. Its scope was not the usually accepted demarcation between two belligerents. Any assault against Israelis anywhere, regardless of actual responsibility, was blamed on the PLO and recorded as a violation of the cease-fire.
Due weight must be attached to Israel's duplicity in defining its aims -- starting out with seeking to establish a 25-mile zone of "safety" in south Lebanon but changing daily until Israeli forces stood at the gates of Beirut, far to the north. Obviously, Israel's objective was not the safety of its people but the total destruction of the Palestinian people in a huge military operation.
Now Israel is trying to portray its enormous crime in terms of a false pragmatism, advancing the idea that the destruction of Lebanon will produce new opportunities for its reconstruction and for the general peace and stability of the region under a U.S.-Israeli condominium. This proposal presumes the destruction of the PLO, the total passivity of the Arab states and Lebanese acceptance of Israel as the arbiter of the political order in Lebanon. Above all, it takes for granted American cooperation.
It is true that the sheer dimensions of the Israeli rampage through Lebanon numbed the Arab world, particularly because the Arabs could not believe that the United States would stand by and let Israel's American-armed forces dismantle Lebanon piece by piece. They were even more astonished when the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that demanded implementation of a previous resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal, and which the United States had supported.
Subsequent U.S. official statements, repeating Israel demands for the withdrawal of "all foreign forces" from Lebanon, have enhanced the perception in the Arab world that the United States is at least going along with Israeli policy, if not actually collaborating with it.
The Arabs reject the attempt to equate the Israeli invaders with the Syrian and Palestinian elements that are in Lebanon. No matter what the perceptions are about the Syrians and Palestinians in Lebanon, their presence stems from Arab decisions taken at Arab summit conferences, and from Lebanon's request and consent -- and that goes for their stay or departure.
Moreover, the destruction of some structures of the PLO in south Lebanon does not spell its end. The idea of the PLO and the cause it has been fighting for are embedded in the Palestinian consciousness.
Most of all, the Lebanese, totally supported by the Arab states, will not permit Israel to dictate the future political shape of Lebanon.
Beyond all this, there is a clear understanding in the Arab world that the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon is also aimed at isolating the Palestinians of the occupied territories, thus presumably making them more amenable to Israeli rule and eventual annexation. That is certain to prove another Israeli delusion, as is evident from the reaction of the Palestinians to the assault on Lebanon.
Far from providing new opportunities for peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict, the Israeli occupation of Lebanon is a blueprint for disaster that the United States cannot support and at the same time remain hopeful of playing a constructive role in the region.