One year after Israeli invasion, Lebanon is still reeling
Beirut — The massive holes from Israeli gunboat and artillery fire that pocked the luxury highrise apartment blocks along Beirut's famous Mediterranean seafront have mostly been patched up now. There is fresh paint over the structural injuries.
The much-photographed ferris wheel on the corniche is in operation again. And the sports complexes at the legendary St. Georges Yacht Club and the Summerland resort recently reopened, packed with sunbathers and water-skiers on weekends.
These are the hopeful signs that life may, someday, somehow, return to normal in Lebanon.
But in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion, which began exactly one year ago today, the outlook is in fact increasingly pessimistic about Lebanon's future. There are some diplomats and longtime residents who are skeptical enough to predict Lebanon may never be Lebanon again.
For each sign of hope there are multiple symbols of despair. The plush restored apartments are countered by entire suburbs on the southern outskirts of the capital where families still struggle to survive amid war ruins. ''Repairs'' mean only plastic sheeting or scrap metal over missing walls or roofs.
Those who can afford amusement parks or swimming clubs are vastly outnumbered by the thousands who are unemployed or underemployed because of the destruction of industries, small businesses, and service outlets.
Meanwhile, costs are soaring, as inflation has finally caught up with Lebanon after an eight-year void in collection of taxes and import duties and an end to widespread smuggling that kept prices in the duty-free range.
The tragedy of Lebanon is that it is trapped in a classic Catch-22. Oil-rich Arab allies claim they are willing to help rebuild the country politically and economically, but not until there is a withdrawal of the 70,000 Israeli, Syrian, and Palestinian forces. Yet it is Lebanon's strategic and economic potential that has led to the dispute among the rival forces over terms for withdrawal.
The time lag of one year has been costly, allowing the scars at all levels to deepen.
Even the straightforward issue of reconstruction has the potential to become a flashpoint for conflict, especially as it continues to be delayed.
Dr. Mohammed Atallah, chairman of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, estimates it will take $15 billion over the next decade to rebuild the country's economic infrastructure after eight years of sporadic conflict.
But ''the program cannot start until public order is restored in all parts of the country,'' according to Meguerditch Bouldoukian of Beirut's Banque Libano-Francaise.
Meanwhile, the disparity between classes accelerates. The rich get richer because they have private resources to take advantage of the moment, such as doubling or tripling rents due to the housing shortage. And the poor are getting poorer because foreign aid is minimal and the Lebanese government's deficit budget cannot bail them out.
One official decision last week typifies the dilemma. The Cabinet voted to end bread subsidies in order to allocate $5 million for low-income housing. That may serve to help those most affected over the long term by the invasion, but it will also increase suffering over the short term.
Unfortunately for Lebanon, the economy has political ramifications. Those hit hardest over the past year have been the Muslims in west Beirut and southern Lebanon - the areas where the PLO was strongest. The least affected were the Christians, who were allies of the Israeli invaders.
The widening extremes between the haves and the have-nots, one of the original flashpoints for the 1975-76 civil war, has heightened the longstanding tension among religious sects over which community should dominate Lebanon's confessionally divided political structure.
That has been emphasized by the emergence of a predominantly Muslim ''National Front'' over the past month, which opposes the policies of President Amin Gemayel, a Christian. The National Front has hinted that it may set up an ''alternative'' government under Syrian control.
The bottom line is that the causes for the original breakdown in law and order, the sparks for the civil war and subsequent conflicts, are all still major factors, except for the Palestinians.
Even many of the PLO's Muslim allies will admit in private that they do not miss the guerrillas, since it should help Lebanon get down to the business of sorting itself out.
The much-anticipated ''fresh wave'' accompanying the election last September of Mr. Gemayel, who was noted for maintaining solid contacts with Muslims throughout the eight-year crisis, has all but faded. The momentum of hope has been lost.
The continued presence of the Israelis, who are allies of the Phalange Party founded by Amin Gemayel's father, Pierre, and the demands of the disgruntled Muslims have stymied Mr. Gemayel's plans for reconciliation among Lebanon's many competing religious and political groups.
The result is that Mr. Gemayel, the first president to grow up in a fully independent Lebanon, may also be the leader to witness the partitioning, or even the end, of his country.
Because of the deadlock over withdrawal of foreign forces, the two most popular scenarios for Lebanon are a war of attrition between Syria and Israel, or a de facto partitioning by the occupying armies of Lebanon - a country smaller than the state of Connecticut.
It is an ironic ending to ''operation peace for Galilee,'' which originally aimed at pushing PLO guns beyond range of Israel's northern border, and weakening the Palestinian hold on Lebanon.
The daring and controversial attack actually created a bigger dilemma for the Israelis' Christian allies in Lebanon. It allowed Arab militants to gain the diplomatic edge over moderate countries that favored a negotiated peace with Israel. And it provided an excuse for the Soviet Union to strengthen its presence in the region, challenging what had been a virtual US diplomatic monopoly.