Lebanese Civil War: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Part Nineteen
During the 1970’s, after Palestinian groups were expelled from Jordan, the PLO was effectively an umbrella group of eight organizations headquartered in Damascus and Beirut. All were devoted to armed resistance to either Zionism or Israeli occupation, using methods which included direct clashing and guerrilla warfare against Israel. After Black September, the Cairo Agreement (established principles under which the presence and activities of Palestinian guerrillas in southeast Lebanon would be tolerated and regulated by the Lebanese authorities) led the PLO to establish itself in Lebanon.
1974 Arab League Summit
At the conference, Jordan and the other members of the Arab League declared that the Palestinian Liberation Organization was the “sole legitimate representative of the [Arab] Palestinian people”, thereby relinquishing to that organization its role as representative of the West Bank. The summit shaped the future of the conflict for:
- It forced King Hussein to relinquish his claim to be able to speak for the Palestinians and to acknowledge that a future Palestinian state would have to be independent of Jordan.
- It weakened the American and Israeli position for they felt it was preferable to negotiate with Hussein rather than the PLO.
Lebanese Civil War
Lasting from 1975 to 1990, the multifaceted war resulted in an estimated 120,000 fatalities, and 76,000 people still displaced within Lebanon today. There was a mass exodus of almost one million people from Lebanon.
Before the war, Lebanon was multisectarian, with Sunnis dominating the coasts, Shias dominating the south, while the government of Lebanon had been dominated by Maronite Christians. The link between politics and religion had been reinforced under the mandate of the French colonial powers from 1920 to 1943, and the parliamentary structure favored a leading position for the Christians; however, the country had a large Muslim population and many pan-Arabist and Left Wing groups which opposed the pro-western government. The establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees to Lebanon changed the demographic balance in favor of the Muslim population.
The Cold War also had a powerful disintegrative effect on Lebanon, which was closely linked to the polarization that preceded the 1958 Lebanon Political Crisis (intervention lasting around three months where American and Lebanese government forces successfully occupied the port and international airport of Beirut at the request of the Lebanese president), since Maronites sided with the West while Left Wing and pan-Arab groups sided with Soviet aligned Arab countries.
The militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, with the arrival of the PLO forces after their expulsion from Jordan during Black September, sparked an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions and provided a foundation for the long-term involvement of Lebanon in regional conflicts. Fighting between Maronite and Palestinian forces began in 1975, and Left Wing, pan-Arabist and Muslim Lebanese groups later allied themselves with the Palestinians.
During the course of the fighting, alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably. By the end of the war, seemingly every party had allied with and subsequently betrayed every other party at least once. Furthermore, foreign powers, such as Israel and Syria, became involved in the war and fought alongside different factions.
Peace keeping forces, such as the Multinational Force (international peacekeeping force created after the demand was made by Lebanon to the UN’s secretary-general, and initially to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization; composed of contingents of the United States Marines and Navy SEALs, units of the French 11th Parachute Brigade, the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment, other units of the French Foreign Legion, Italian soldiers, and British soldiers) and United Nations Interim Force (created to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon which Israel had invaded, restore international peace and security, and help the Government of Lebanon restore its effective authority in the area), were also stationed in Lebanon.
The Taif Agreement of marked the beginning of the end of the fighting. A committee appointed by the Arab League began to formulate solutions to the conflict. In March 1991, parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes prior to its enactment. All militias were dissolved, with the exception of Hezbollah, while the Lebanese Armed Forces began to slowly rebuild as Lebanon’s only major non-sectarian institution. Tensions between Sunnis and Shias remained after the war.
Palestine: Part 20 – Syria in Lebanon