Phalangist takeover dashes hopes for short-term Lebanese unity

The virtual liquidation by the right-wing Lebanese Phalangist Party of its chief rival and ally in the Christian areas, the National Liberal Party (NLP), has dealt a major blow to Lebanese authorities at a time when they are redoubling efforts to foster national entente.

It is now clear that the Phalangists, in two days of violent battles early this week, succeeded in pulverizing Camille Chamoun's NLP, leaving it with little choice but to dissolve or seek a capitulation.

In principle, this did little to change the status of the Christian heartland vis-a-vis the authorities. Filling the vacuum left by the state's general collapse in the 1975-77 war, the right-wing parties and their rapidly-burgeoning militias had already applied the principle of "self-security," taking into their own hands virtually all the functions normally the pre- rogative of the state, with their jurisdiction stretching from East Beirut's suburbs up the coast to the north and eastwards into the mountains. The Phalangists have already established a para-state apparatus in the areas where they predominate -- including a security "service" and machinery for taxing the ordinary populace.

With the suppression of their major rival, there is now no obstacle to the application of this regime throughout the Christian areas, except those in the far north. There runs the writ of the former President Suleiman Franjieh, who has his own two-year-old blood- feud with the Phalangists.

Previous Phalangists-NLP clashes had led to agreement on the entry of Lebanese army troops to take over security in certain locations, a trend encouraged by the NLP and resented by the Phalangists. But any hopes that this week's battles might lead to similar moves on a more national scale were soon dashed.

The Phalangists and their crushed allies are now considering plans to dissolve all their militias and constitute a single "national guard," responsible only to the "Lebanese front" alliance of right-wing political parties, the latter would continue to exercise their various identities as purely political bodies. Although NLP leader Chamoun is president of the front, his say would inevitably be diminished in a country where the gun rules.

The Phalangists takeover has, in the short term at least, dashed hopes for national entente and the formation of a national unity government to replace the outgoing administration of Dr. Selim Al-hoss.

In principle, though, it might ultimately facilitate stbilization and national reintegration, in that the authorities and the Muslim-leftist half of the country would find themselves with only one interlocutor instead of several outbidding rivals.

But for the time being, the leftists and Muslims are greatly alarmed by the development. They fear they may soon be the target of what they see as Phalangist megalomania, and the most likely trend is for them to further reinforce their own capabilities.

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