Lebanese fears.

Author:Trendle, Giles
Position:The Gaza-Jericho plan between the Palestinians and Israelis instill fears in the Lebanese leaders

News of the Gaza-Jericho plan between the PLO and Israel came as a cruel surprise to the Lebanese leaders, particularly as Beirut had been host only days earlier to an Arab foreign ministers meeting in which the imperative of Arab co-ordination had once more been reiterated.

Lebanese president Elias Hrawi accused the PLO of having ruined Arab solidarity by secretly negotiating with the Israelis. A bitter sense of betrayal was much on the president's mind as he remarked how Lebanon had stood by Arafat and the PLO in 1982 during the Israeli invasion, at huge human and material cost, only to be left in the dark by Arafat at this important juncture.

Anger at the PLO-Israel deal was not confined to the Lebanese. Many Palestinians, packed into the various refugee camps up and down Lebanon, also vented their criticism of the deal.

The deal was anathema to most of the refugees in Beirut's three main camps, which are controlled by the coalition of ten Damascus-based Palestinian rejectionist factions opposed to Arafat.

Yet even in the sprawling camp of Ain il Hilweh, a stronghold of Arafat's Fatah group on the edge of the port town of Sidon in south Lebanon, around 2,000 of the camp's inhabitants marched through the streets in protest at the Gaza-Jericho deal, with some demonstrators burning pictures of Arafat.

The demonstration revealed that an anti-Arafat feeling is growing even in what has been considered as Arafat's safest constituency in Lebanon.

The unabashed ire of both the Lebanese leadership and Palestinian refugees contrasted with the somewhat taciturn initial reaction of Syria to the PLO-Israel deal. Lebanon is a useful arena for the Syrians to vent their privately-held views through the public pronouncements of politicians and parties Lebanon.

That the PLO had seemingly strayed away from the Arab fold to undertake secret unilateral talks with the Israelis would have been enough to initially pique the Syrians. Lebanon's initial anger was soon overshadowed by the anxiety among its political and religious leaders that the Gaza-Jericho deal could effectively lead to the definitive settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Lebanon's leaders were perturbed by the fact that there was no specific reference in the PLO-Israel plan to the fate of the Palestinian diaspora in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Lebanese leaders, from all political and religious backgrounds, are acutely sensitive to the prospect of the 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon being...

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