Maronites split over ties with Israel
Washington — The explosion that killed Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel Sept. 14 has caused an ideological upheaval in many right-wing Christian quarters in Lebanon, according to inside reports from Beirut.
That killing, and the subsequent massacres in west Beirut refugee camps, have caused many right-wingers to rethink their former informal alliance with Israel, and to give new emphasis to conciliation with Lebanese Muslims.
Now, Bashir's elder brother Amin Gemayel - like him a luminary of the family-led Phalangist Party - is the family's new candidate in the presidential elections rescheduled for Sept. 21. He has issued a strong call for national unity, and has so far received a promise of support from 30 Muslim parliamentarians meeting in Beirut.
Leftist leader Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon's Druze community, has also phoned Amin Gemayel from Amman, Jordan, to promise the votes of his supporters in the 92-member parliament. And one report says that House Speaker Kamal Asaad, a Shiite Muslim, has also said he will back Gemayel.
But unlike Bashir's former candidacy, Amin's was at first contested by at least two other Maronite Christian candidates. (A 1943 agreement between the country's sects allotted the presidency to the Maronites in a distribution of high-level state positions.)
One of the other candidates is Raymond Edde, who since 1974 has warned against the existence of plans to partition Lebanon. But since 1976, his warnings have been voiced from exile in Paris, and he is thought to have little support.
The other candidate was the 82-year-old pro-Western politician Camille Chamoun, who was president from 1952 to 1958. But he withdrew his candidacy Sept. 20, citing concern for national unity.
Back in 1980, Bashir Gemayel launched a bloody, and apparently successful, battle against Chamoun's Tigers militia. Many Tigers were slaughtered.
But with the killing of Bashir, some of these former Chamounists, and some other members of Bashir's Lebanese Forces militia who are considered pro-Israeli , have reportedly split off from the Gemayel family mainstream. It is they, together with the Israeli-supported gunmen loyal to Maj. Saad Haddad, who were reported to be backing Chamoun's candidacy. Many in Beirut still fear these fighters might yet seek to block the new elections by force.
The central issue in the elections has clearly emerged as that of an Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty. The Israeli government has long been calling for such a treaty, and its Army is now in control of Beirut and more than half of all Lebanon.
According to Maronite and Gemayel family sources, Israeli pressure on Bashir to hurry into such a treaty caused a deep rift between him and the Israelis immediately after his election earlier this month.
Bashir had been the most vocal in the Gemayel family, arguing in favor of continuing links with Israel that began in 1976. But he was apparently convinced that, as president, he would need to rebuild a Lebanese national consensus, including Muslims, before addressing the potentially divisive treaty issue.
Another disagreement between Bashir and his former Israeli backers centered on the fate of the 400,000 Palestinian refugees remaining in Lebanon. Israel favors the permanent resettlement of the refugees in their present lands of refuge - but Bashir and all his family have always argued for their return to the lands of the former Palestine.
Given the depth of these disagreements, some Gemayel family members are saying in private that they are convinced Israel was behind the killing of Bashir. The immediate suspect appears to be one of Bashir's strongest militia commanders, a man called Dib Anastas, who was known for his sympathies with the Israeli-Haddad-Chamoun axis.
The Gemayel family leadership has apparently been successful in communicating their suspicions to Lebanese Muslim leaders. Hence, the latter's strong support for Amin Gemayel's candidacy.
The Israelis, meanwhile, have been trying to pin most of the blame for the latest massacres in the Beirut refugee camps on the Phalangists, in what the Muslim leaders say is an attempt to break their new support for Amin Gemayel. [ Gemayel himself has denied any official Phalangist participation, though it is possible some of the dissidents in the Lebanese Forces [the Phalange] participated along with Major Haddad's men.]