PLO nears agreement to relocate
Beirut — The Lebanese government and the Palestine Liberation Organization are very close to agreement to a plan whereby PLO headquarters would be moved to another Arab capital and the independent military arm of the organization would be ended.
But the agreement still depends on consensus in Beirut, acceptance by Israel, which holds the overwhelmingly superior military position, and concurrence by the Arab government(s) that would host the Palestinian population uprooted from Beirut by the plan.
If the dawdling pace of negotiations continues, agreement may also come too late. Israeli officials are understood to have given the PLO only ''a few days'' to ditch their weapons and be convoyed or shipped out of Beirut and out of Lebanon altogether.
Top PLO and Lebanese officials told the Monitor June 28 they are nearing completion of a plan under which:
* The PLO leadership would move to another Arab capital. Though there are significant problems with any location, Damascus, Cairo, and Riyadh are getting the most attention. Cairo would probably be the most livable location for the PLO, but the Egyptian government's peace treaty with Israel and close cooperation with the United States present problems. Still, there are persistent reports that Egypt is prepared to ferry Palestinians by sea from Beirut.
* Most of the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 guerrillas in Beirut would disarm. Others would become part of a Palestinian cadre in the Lebanese Army. This would be similar to the ''Palestine liberation armies'' of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and other Arab states - Palestinian soldiers tied to the army of these governments.
''We are approaching something final,'' a ranking PLO official told the Monitor June 28.
A Lebanese Cabinet minister said only a ''few more rounds'' of negotiations are necessary before the two parties agree to the strategy.
Both the PLO and Lebanese officials said the June 25 Israeli cease-fire, Saudi Arabian pressure on the US government, and the resignation last week of US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. had contributed to the spirit of compromise.
But it still seems difficult to imagine the Israelis and the rightist Lebanese Phalange being satisfied with a plan that leaves armed Palestinians in Lebanon, even if they are under the presumed control of the Lebanese Army. A considerably stronger Lebanese Army was splintered in the early 1970s under a much similar arrangement; this, then, made the PLO one of the country's strongest military forces and enabled it to harass Israel without fear of Lebanese stricture.
One could therefore expect that the most probable minimum the Israeli-Phalangist bloc would accept would be complete disarmament of the PLO and movement of active PLO members from Lebanon. And if that Israeli-Phalangist minimum looks too much like PLO capitulation, the PLO and the PLO's Lebanese allies promise to fight on.
''The PLO is realistic about the whole problem,'' the Lebanese minister said. ''We have not heard non-reasoned words from the PLO. I don't think anybody wants to see Beirut destroyed. Nor does anyone want to see the PLO surrender.''
This official said the joint Lebanese-PLO plan would entail a small military presence in Lebanon, ''but this will be a minimum, really just symbolic'' in order for the PLO to save face. He said it seemed unlikely the PLO would ''move directly from Beirut to Cairo,'' but then he indicated that Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, had played an important role in bringing along the negotiations.
With Egypt as the new home for the PLO, optimists in Beirut reason, the PLO might be made to play a part in the Camp David talks on Palestinian autonomy, and Egypt might be speedily reintegrated into the Arab world.
But it is just the optimists who say this. If the PLO accepts passage to Egypt, even under grave duress, it also accepts loss of independence and, in some ways, accepts Camp David, which the PLO has actively campaigned against.
More likely, it is felt, the PLO would move its headquarters to Damascus or Riyadh. In either location, the PLO would lose independence, but it would still be able to carry on its drive for a Palestinian state in Israeli-held territory.
''Moving PLO headquarters is left to them,'' the Lebanese Cabinet official said. ''They will stay where they feel the safest.''
At the moment, almost any Arab country would be safer than Lebanon for the PLO.
The PLO official said his organization was not considering this relocation and redeployment strategy out of fear of the Israeli Army. ''The only thing that concerns us is the civilian losses that would occur if the Israelis attack Beirut. But if they want to fight us street to street, we have no other choice. We do not believe the war has come to an end yet.''
The Lebanese official was more optimistic, his optimism reflecting the general mood in west Beirut three days after the latest Israeli cease-fire. ''I think the (Israeli-American) trend toward finishing the job, whatever the bloodshed, has been stopped. It was an American-conducted operation that has gone too far. And I think there is a political way out that is very close at hand,'' he said.
If the guns continue to stay silent in Lebanon and the negotiations can be rapidly concluded, then he may be right. But every day that armed Palestinians face armed Israelis, the danger of a new, disastrous flare-up of fighting presents itself.