Lebanon Cease-fire / Awaiting Hezbollah's Seal

David Welch, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, departed Beirut yesterday without a declaration attesting to an achievement of some sort. Does Beirut agree to support the French-American formula, whose final elements have yet to be settled? Depends on which Beirut you talk to.

According to press sources in Lebanon, Hezbollah is prepared to accept in the first phase the fundamentals of the Grapes of Wrath Accord, which it signed, indirectly, with Israel in 1996, under which the fire would cease and each side undertakes not to fire at the other side's civilians. But, as in Israel, Hezbollah too is reserving the option to fire at any Israeli force found on Lebanese soil.

Another condition of Nasrallah's is that all Lebanese refugees be allowed to return home. Unless these terms are met, there will be no discussion over the rest of the terms, including the issues of prisoner exchange and Shaba Farms.

Hezbollah's position is not necessarily that of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is sticking to his seven-point plan, but is willing to agree to implement them in stages. First, a total cease-fire, deployment of a multinational force along with the Lebanese Army along the border with Israel, and negotiations over exchanging captives and prison inmates. Then the remaining demands: an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms and their placement under international monitoring until they are transfered to Lebanon, return of Lebanese refugees to their homes and Hezbollah's disarmament.

Siniora, who countenances a two-stage maneuver, cannot guarantee right now that he will be able to implement both parts, since at this point Hezbollah's commitment is only to cease fire on Israel if Israel stops attacking targets in Lebanon, but it is not pledging not to fire at IDF troops inside Lebanon.

Furthermore, Nasrallah, not the Lebanese government, is holding the two Israeli soldiers, and he has still not consented to hand them over to Israel unconditionally. Nasrallah also continued to resist a multinational force that is not under UN control, and can therefore be pleased for now by the draft resolution, since it talks about reinforcing UNIFIL with a French force, without specifying where that force would operate.

The Lebanese government knows that without Hezbollah's consent to the cease-fire terms, there won't be a cease-fire.