People say the Palestinian guerrillas live in the white house that sits isolated among wheat and potato fields about two miles beyond the last Israeli bunker here in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The commandos can sneak through the swamps in the no man's land after dark and fire Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at Israeli outposts, but they have not done so in two weeks.
The Israelis think that the Syrians, who run things on the other side, have told the Palestinians to stay home for now. Damascus radio has accused Israel of planning a major offensive here before winter rains make tank movements impossible in about a month, and Syria evidently wishes to avoid any provocations.
On the Israeli side, there are few signs of the bustle that would be expected to precede an assault. Roads regularly are blocked for 15 minutes to keep cars out of the line of fire as tanks blast away at metal drums in target practice, but it all seems to be routine.
Dozens of small, prefabricated huts have sprung up so that the Israelis soon can move out of their field tents. Each prefab has a gray metal chimney, suggesting that the Israelis may settle in for a long winter despite Washington's hopes for a withdrawal of both sides' troops before the new year.
While the Palestinian raids recently have fallen off, Israeli soldiers are wary and the atmosphere hardly is peaceful. Automatic-weapons fire often is heard at night, and local residents say the Israelis mistake coyotes or wild boars for terrorist infiltrators. A dog recently had a scare when it stepped on one of the mines that triggers explosion of a five-minute flare to illuminate guerrillas.
THE BEKAA is a checkerboard of farms in a plain never more than 10 miles wide between two ranges of mountains rising 3,000 feet above it. Drained by the Litani River, its fertile soil makes it Lebanon's most productive agricultural area.
The weather this year was among the best in two decades for growing crops, but nearly five months of fighting and related troubles prevented farmers from cashing in. Dust raised by heavy military vehicles stunted growth of grapes and cut into wine output. Tanks crushed irrigation pumps and plowed through pear and apple orchards, destroying trees. One prominent land holder estimated that his income would be one-third to one-fifth of normal.
"Most people will be very lucky if they break even," he said.
Farmers in the Israeli-occupied southern third of the valley have been hit particularly hard. The front line cuts them off from the market towns of Shtawrah and Zahlah, in Syrian-controlled territory, where they normally would sell their crops and obtain equipment and spare parts.
Many fields have not been plowed because the heavy tractors needed are rented in Shtawrah and thus were unavailable. Engines to run irrigation pumps have been broken for months because parts are lacking.
ONE ROAD across the lines is open from Monday to Thursday, but residents say only a hundred vehicles receive permission to cross each day out of many times more requests. One farmer complained that the Israelis are much less flexible than the Syrians, who had occupied the entire valley since 1976 after intervening in the Lebanese civil war.
"You could talk to the Syrians, deal with them. You could give an officer some money, or a lamb, or a few bottles of liquor. The Israelis are impossible. They send you from one officer to the next, and the last officer says you have to go to Tel Aviv if you want something done."
The Israelis, who are eager to promote trade with Lebanon, often tell farmers to go to Israel to buy or sell goods. There is some interest in Israeli irrigation equipment, but the border is more than twice as far as Shtawrah. Moreover, these farmers had built up a healthy business exporting fruits and vegetables through Syria to the Persian Gulf states and Iraq. But those Arab countries will not touch products shipped through Israel.