The Syrian-engineered accord designed to end the long siege of Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut represents a retreat for Damascus and all other major parties except Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, which rejected it, in the view of some experienced diplomats here.
The accord, put together by Abdel Halim Khaddam, the Syrian vice president in charge of Lebanese affairs, was signed by the Lebanese Shiite Moslem Amal movement and the Damascus-based Palestine National Salvation Front. Announced here last night, it basically acknowledged that neither Damascus nor its Lebanese Shiite allies have succeeded in bringing the Palestinian defenders of the refugee camps under control.
That failure, in the diplomats' view, was evident in a clause stipulating that the Palestinians were entitled to keep their light weapons, the only arms effective in the street fighting for control of the Lebanese camps.
As in the past, the Palestinians promised to surrender their few heavy and medium weapons, but only at some vague point in the future when all other armed factions in Lebanon did likewise.
The Palestinians also made an important point by insisting that security inside the camp be entrusted to the weak Lebanese gendarmerie and not to the Lebanese Army, whose 6th Brigade is almost entirely made up of Shiite soldiers who fought alongside Amal against the Palestinians.
The agreement thus tacitly conceded that the Palestinians will continue to police their camps and enjoy the state-within-a-state status that Amal had sworn to end.
Politically, the Syrians did make a potentially important point, at least on paper.
They obtained the support of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and other Lebanese political allies for their contention that the Damascus-based Palestinian forces and not Arafat's mainstream PLO -- should be the legitimate voice of the Palestinians in Lebanon.
But if that concession apparently reflected a Syrian desire to make the best of an unsatisfactory job, Khaddam is aware that in Beirut most of the Palestinian fighters are Arafat loyalists, according to diplomats here.
They noted that even the Damascus-based Palestinians have been vehement in denouncing Syria's role in the siege of the Palestinian camps.
Even if the accord is eventually implemented -- and the fighting continued today -- such is the hatred between Palestinians and Shiite Lebanese in and around the camps that observers question how the once allied communities could find a modus vivendi.