Palestinians in the Aftermath of Beirut
There is slight consolation for Palestinians in the realization that Israel did not achieve all its war aims in Lebanon. The accelerating propaganda efforts at convincing the world-the US especially-that Israel delivered Lebanon to the "free" world appear more preposterous everyday, but totally in keeping with the ingrained Israeli habit of supplanting reality with fantasy. True, the immense physical and human damage done to Lebanon has receded in memory some- what; and true also there is a meliorist and euphemistic aura surrounding Lebanon's new president, who aspires to being more a national president and more a symbol of unity than either the tradition of his predecessors or of his party might allow. But in the main Israel has not been able to turn its military successes into anything resembling a clear-cut political victory. The universal opprobrium heaped upon Begin and Sharon for the siege of Beirut and the Sabra-Shatila massacres, the intensified international awareness of the Palestinian issue, the minimal but definite steps forward taken by President Reagan and the Arab heads of state: all these are indications that Likud's plan for a Palestinian final solution failed to sweep the board clean to Israel's advantage. As the war's bill of $2.5 billion is presented by Israel to the US, it is likely that more rather than less regrets about the whole episode will be expressed; talk of the war's "opportunities for creative diplomacy" have long since given way both to disapproval of Israel's peremptory annexationist militarism and to a widening of the chasm between US and Israeli interests. This chasm corresponds with the difference between a major imperial and a minor sub-imperial power. Nevertheless, all this will not necessarily be to the Palestinians' advantage. The all-but-formal annexation of the West Bank and Gaza proceeds unchecked; the dispersal of more Palestinians to more places continues; the isolation of individual Palestinians, and of Palestinians collectively, increases the difficulty of their anomalous status; statehood seems further away.
Edward W. Said is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, a member of the Palestine National Council, and author of Orientalism and The Question of Palestine.