A NEW Arab peace plan has raised hopes for an end to more than six months of carnage in Lebanon. But it evidently has major hurdles to clear. The difficulties facing the plan were swiftly underscored by the fact that its call for an ``immediate and comprehensive cease-fire'' went unheeded. Clashes continued to break out along the Beirut confrontation line, and long-range artillery duels between Syrian and Christian gunners also continued.
Unless the two sides can agree on measures to underpin the truce, observers see little chance of calm. The Arab plan's prescription on that score was accepted by the Syrians and their Muslim allies. The Christians, led by Gen. Michel Aoun, have yet to take a formal position.
Taken at face value, the seven-point plan announced on Sept. 16 by the Saudi foreign minister has little to offer General Aoun.
It makes no reference to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the main demand raised by the general when he declared his ``liberation war'' back in March.
On several other key points, the Arab proposals are sharply at odds with Aoun's known positions. He reiterated them forcefully in a televised statement broadcast only hours before his meeting with Arab League envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi, who traveled to Beirut to try to implement the new plan.
Unless Mr. Ibrahimi could provide the general with credible assurances that the proposed process would lead to a Syrian withdrawal, observers doubted that the plan would enjoy much cooperation from his camp.
Sources close to Aoun did not believe any such assurances were forthcoming. But they ruled out the possibility that the general would simply reject the plan.
Nor would he accept the proposals as they stood, the sources said. Instead, he would seek changes to the points on which his views collide with the position adopted by the Arab League's tripartite committee:
The proposal for a purely Lebanese security committee (albeit headed by Ibrahimi) to monitor the cease-fire. Aoun has always refused to form such a committee with his Lebanese adversaries, insisting that the conflict is between Lebanon and Syria.
The proposal that the security committee should inspect ships thought to be carrying arms to the Lebanese belligerents. Aoun has always insisted on his right to receive arms and munitions. The Syrians and their mainly Muslim allies have been imposing a blockade on Christian ports, trying to prevent Iraqi arms supplies from reaching Aoun. Syria can supply its Muslim allies by overland routes.
The proposal that the Lebanese parliament should be called into session on Sept. 30 to discuss a new national power-sharing charter involving far-reaching political reforms which would reduce traditional Christian privileges. Aoun has rejected discussion of reforms in advance of Syrian withdrawal, or at least guarantees of such a withdrawal.
Aoun's supporters saw the Arab plan as a retreat from the position taken by the tripartite Arab committee when it announced in July that its peace efforts had reached ``dead end.''
The committee, made up of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco, declared publicly that Syria's attitude had made it impossible to achieve either a cease-fire or political progress. But its latest plan did not mention the Syrians at all.
``No decent Lebanese can be enthusiastic about [the new plan], which is a step backward,'' said a source close to Aoun.
``The Syrians may be betting on the general to refuse the plan - but he won't do that. Nothing is going to stop the liberation war, but at the same time, we can't ignore such an important forum as the Arab League,'' he added.
The League's peace effort for Lebanon is strongly supported by the international powers, including the US. Some of Aoun's supporters believe that the tripartite committee's new plan was formulated under strong pressure from Washington, which withdrew all its diplomats from the Christian enclave on Sept. 6 amidst a bitter rift with the general.