THE Arab League's peace plan has largely succeeded in stopping the fighting in Lebanon, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to return to their homes. But both sides express doubts about the prospects for the political settlement plan that the Arab mediators hope will end the country's 14-year crisis.
Dialogue on political reforms is to begin at a special meeting of the Lebanese parliament to be held in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, starting Sept. 30.
The Arab mediators hope that agreement on a new national power-sharing charter will be swiftly followed by the election of a new president and the formation of a new national unity government. Under the Arab plan, Syrian forces would only then be expected to stage a withdrawal from the Beirut area back to the eastern Bekaa Valley, phased over two years.
The conflicting priorities of Christian and Muslim parliamentarians may make it harder to reach accord on the reform and election issues than the mediators hope.
In September last year, parliament was unable to reach agreement on a new president. Observers see no change in the underlying situation which brought about that deadlock.
If the current plan fails, there are fears that the cease-fire will sooner or later collapse.
For the moment, there seems to be a tacit agreement that it is time for a break in hostilities. Lebanon's longest, most intensive bout of fighting since 1975 killed about 900 people and wounded at least 3,000 others.
Aid officials estimate that at least 15,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by heavy shelling. About 80 percent of Beirut's population sought refuge in other parts of the country or abroad.
The latest battles, mainly involving heavy artillery, pitched Lebanese Army troops and their Christian militia allies against the Syrians and their local partners, mainly Walid Jumblatt's Druze militia.
But the struggle is now in the political arena.
``As far as we are concerned, the military option is no longer required,'' said an aide to Gen. Michel Aoun, the Lebanese Army commander. General Aoun's appointment a year ago as prime minister is accepted only in the Christian enclave.
``There is a resolution and a final position on the part of the nationalist and Islamic forces to restore calm and leave the matter to politics,'' said Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Muslim militia Amal. Mr. Berri is one of Syria's staunchest allies, though his militia avoided embroilment in the conflict.
Aoun's acceptance of the seven-point Arab plan on Sept. 22 cleared the way for it to be implemented, as the Syrians and their mainly Muslim allies had already welcomed it.
Since then, the cease-fire has generally held, though there have been some exchanges of fire across the confrontation line and a few outbursts of shelling. Beirut's international airport is operating again after a six-month closure, and ships are docking at the city's port, with the Syrians and their allies lifting the blockade they had been trying to impose on the Christian harbors.
Aoun and his Christian community spent nearly a week agonizing over the Arab plan, which ran counter to his ideas both on details and in its broad lines.
The plan was strongly backed by the Arab nations, including those most sympathetic to the general's cause, and by the international powers, including France and the Soviet Union, which had been diplomatically active trying to defuse the conflict.
``We understood that the whole world was asking us to give peace a good chance,'' said one of the general's aides. ``You have to pay a price for peace, and we paid a high price. Peace can never come unless people accept things they had earlier refused.''
But Aoun's circles believe the Syrians were not sincere in their commitment to the Arab plan. They were counting on the general to reject it. Now they, in turn, expect the Syrians to obstruct the process.
``We think the Syrians are not very happy with our acceptance, and will start making problems,'' said one source close to the general. ``The side which forbade any settlement in Lebanon for 14 years is not suddenly going to allow one now.''
As evidence justifying this view, they point to numerous statements by Syria's Lebanese allies critical of the Arab proposals for political reform.
``The battle is not over yet,'' said Mr. Jumblatt, the Druze leader. ``Justice cannot be established on the basis of the fragile sectarian settlement envisaged by the Arab proposals.''
In particular, Jumblatt and his allies have focused on Aoun's Lebanese Army, saying that reform of its structure is more important than constitutional changes. ``We will only give up our arms to a Lebanese national Arab army, committed to serving on the border against Israel,'' he said.
Aoun's aides make it clear they see the political process primarily as a way of getting the Syrians out. His adversaries see it mainly as a way of ousting the general himself. Aoun will have to stand down if a new president is elected and a unified government formed.