With the world watching, a remarkable event began to unfold this week in Geneva. Leaders of 11 of Lebanon's 17 Christian and Muslim factions, who have been at each other's throats for decades, checked their handguns at a conference-room door, took up places around green-felt-covered tables, and considered peace.
The precise place of the Lebanon reconciliation talks in an eventual power-sharing plan is uncertain. Heavy peacekeeping-force losses by France and the United States a week ago add to the urgency for President Amin Gemayel to show results. Gemayel himself last week had labeled the factional talks ''a camouflage, a distraction''; getting Syrian, Israeli, Palestine Liberation Organization, Libyan, and Iranian forces out of Lebanon was his main goal.
But it has been the internal acrimony, the cross-assassinations of sons and fathers and uncles among warring clans that have weakened Lebanon and drawn in foreign forces in an endless search for stability through military stalemate.
The current month-long cease-fire in Lebanon that has permitted the reconciliation talks to begin is the 179th Lebanese cease-fire in the past 10 years. Obviously, the stop-start pattern of strife and exhaustion leads nowhere. Only a genuine healing of hatred and mistrust can produce peace.
''We are all losers,'' President Gemayel told his stone-silent conferees in Geneva. ''The only winner in this war is the conspiracy, the conflict. We all share in the responsibilities and whoever among us is without sin or fault let him throw the first stone. The conflict and conspiracy have moved from one region to another, from one community to another, sparing no family, no friend, and no one. Our conference is a unique opportunity to snatch Lebanon out from this dangerous and dark tunnel.''
As a practical matter, the conference sessions, scheduled to last through the week, are accompanied by intense sideline negotiations, with Syrian, Israeli, Soviet, and US participation. Hard issues like the prospect of successor peacekeeping troops and greater power for the Muslim majority are at stake. If the talks founder, any number of factors could be blamed.
But the simple truth that peacemaking is inherently superior to warmaking is affirmed in holding the talks at all. They mark the first genuine Lebanon peace conference in 40 years. The prayers of all the world should be enlisted to make the reconciliation a success.