Lebanon after Lausanne: a society falling further into disarray?
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Yet now, there was reason to figure things might be different. The main reason was that the Maronites - indeed, almost all rival Lebanese communities - seemed to have nowhere else to turn for help. The Israelis, to whom Maronite leaders turned in breaking their 1976 understanding with Syria, had been burned by their 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel wanted out. Ditto, the Americans.Skip to next paragraph
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On paper, Lausanne should have succeeded. The beleaguered Gemayel and his principal Muslim foes had come very close to agreeing on a new power setup that would protect various Maronite prerogatives for the foreseeable future, yet award greatly enhanced political say to Muslims and Druze.
Yet ultimately, Lausanne proved the inability of verbal formulas to constrain a showdown between Lebanon's old order and whatever comes next. The Maronites - ironically, in the shape of their most pro-Syrian leader, former President Suleiman Franjieh - decided that even setbacks on the ground were not sufficient reason to bargain away decades of political privilege as a Christian minority amid a ''sea'' of Muslims.
Partly, this was an old-style Maronite impulse bred of past centuries in Lebanon's mountains. But also, the Maronite veto reflected an understanding that a more militant breed of Christian leadership was arising from the ranks of civil-war militias only nominally answerable to the old-style Maronite clan chiefs.
And partly, Franjieh's move seemed an effort to settle scores with rivals in the Maronite old guard - specifically with Phalangist Party leader Pierre Gemayel, Amin's father. A third Maronite veteran, former President Camille Chamoun, went along with Franjieh's veto. He, too, has scores to settle with the Gemayel clan.
''Fossils,'' scoffed the much younger Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt. ''Beware the Ides of March!'' he added as a parting shot - as if to suggest that only when the old guard went the way of Caesar would the real political bargaining over Lebanon's future begin.
Jumblatt may not have meant his Shakespearean nugget literally. Yet other Lebanese delegates were predicting that the next round of fighting in Lebanon might prove an inter-Maronite one, as much as a Muslim-Christian showdown.
Indeed, most of the delegates' pre-departure chatter involved an eerie, obscenely academic swap of scenarios for future bloodletting. Some Muslim and Druze sources seemed to assume a fresh drive by their troops on traditional Maronite areas north of Beirut.
''More fighting is needed for political reform,'' remarked one non-Maronite delegate dryly. Others suspected this would have its limits - that either the Syrians or even Israel would intervene to head off too hefty an advance on the ground.
An easier, more likely, target seemed the vestiges of Gemayel's regular Army - in the hill town of Souk al Gharb and around the nearby presidential palace.
Then, the scenario went, a freshly humbled Maronite leadership - very possibly with a Chamoun or Franjieh destined for the presidency - would find itself back at another round of ''reconciliation'' bargaining. Then, if the Maronites still don't agree on a major shift in power to Muslims, ''another round of fighting.''
Wednesday morning, the Beau Rivage Hotel was all but empty of the Lebanese. Down a plush hallway strode Syrian Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam, an invisibly energetic ''observer'' at the talks. He looked a bit like a baseball manager taking a final, lonely walk around the stadium where his boys had just dropped game seven of the World Series.
''Mr. Khaddam?'' I approached him politely. ''I'm an American reporter. . . .''
He smiled, then said not at all unkindly: ''I have nothing to say.''