To understand the latest news from and about Lebanon, it is necessary to go back to the text of the agreement US Secretary of State George Shultz persuaded the Gemayel government in Lebanon to sign with Israel on May 17 of last year.
Section 2 of Article 1 asserts that ''the state of war between Lebanon and Israel has been terminated.''
Section 1 of Article 8 provides for establishing a Joint Liaison Committee of the three parties, Israel, Lebanon, and the United States.
Subsection B of Section 1 says that ''the Joint Liaison Committee will address itself on a continuing basis to the development of mutual relations between Lebanon and Israel, inter alia the regulation of the movement of goods, products, and persons, communications, etc.''
Subsection F provides that each party ''may maintain a liaison office on the territory of the other party.''
These clauses, taken together, would give Israel both political and economic entry into Lebanon. Israel has not enjoyed such entry into Lebanon, ever. Under these clauses Israel would for the first time have a permanent political and trade office inside Lebanon.
It was contemplated that these arrangements would make it possible for Israeli companies, both public and private, to set up offices and do business inside Lebanon. For example, El Al airlines would be able to fly into Lebanon and Israeli tourist agencies would be able to arrange for tours including places in Lebanon.
These arrangements were made with the Gemayel regime. The Gemayel regime has been urged by Syria to repudiate the May 17 agreement. The Syrians want to have the political and trade clauses repudiated.
Washington has been informed that if it would consent to repudiation of the May 17 agreement, Syria would authorize the Muslim factions in Lebanon to make peace with the Gemayel regime and would assist in establishing that regime in control of all of Lebanon. Syria would also agree to a mutual withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, including its own troops.
In other words, Washington would get everything it says it wants in Lebanon (independence and unity under the Gemayel regime) if it would give up one thing it has not publicly declared that it wants, i.e., the entry of Israeli diplomats and trade into Lebanon.
Syria has rejected the May 17 agreement on the ground that under it ''Israel has achieved goals that it failed to achieve through its invasion of Lebanon.'' A spokesman for President Assad of Syria called it ''an act of submission to the benefit of Israel.''
President Gemayel has considered repudiating the May 17 agreement. He could end the civil war and obtain effective control of the country by doing so. At one point he is reported to have been not only willing but eager to take that road. Had he done so the civil war would have ended and the Marines could have gone quietly home.
But to do so would mean that Israel would obtain no new benefit or advantage from having invaded Lebanon in 1982 and from having maintained an army of occupation in southern Lebanon ever since. The expense of the invasion in blood and treasure would be unrequited.
Secretary Shultz has been urged, urgently, by the NATO allies to authorize President Gemayel to repudiate the May 17 agreement. It has been pointed out to him that by so doing the Gemayel regime would be saved, Lebanon would be united under that regime, the civil war would cease, and there would no longer be any reason to keep the Marines there.
The only loss would be Israel's political and trade entry into Lebanon.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) of Arizona has asserted that there is no American interest involved in Lebanon. He has asserted that the presence of the Marines does not sustain American interests. He has identified Israel as the only interest that is benefited. He favors prompt withdrawal of the Marines.
By clinging to the May 17 agreement, Washington has now caused the resignation of the entire cabinet.