Thursday, July 17, 2008

Can Resolution 1701 last much longer?

Can Resolution 1701 last much longer?
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, July 17, 2008

So, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, is now saying that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 is dead. It's not absolutely dead, but Israel's reluctance to facilitate a solution in the Shebaa Farms area, like its willingness to conclude a grand prisoner bargain with Hizbullah that handed the party a fine victory, will certainly help dismantle what remains of the security framework set up after the summer 2006 war.

There are two Lebanese approaches for dealing with Israel today. There is the one advocated publicly by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and MP Walid Jumblatt that calls for a return to the 1949 Armistice Agreement. Then there is Hizbullah's proposal, which is to pursue an open-ended armed struggle against Israel. Siniora wants to see the Shebaa Farms neutralized as a space of confrontation; Hizbullah has said that whatever solution is found in the farms area, the resistance will continue. Israel's actions have bolstered those who support the second option, in the same way that its inflexibility on releasing Palestinian prisoners has bolstered those Palestinians who argue that the best way to resolve that issue is to kidnap or kill Israelis, then haggle over them or their body parts.

The Hizbullah-Israel swap on Wednesday was surrounded by substantial hypocrisy. March 14 and Siniora lustily applauded an exchange that they knew was to their disadvantage. Jumblatt, faced with Samir Kontar's release, decided it was best to co-opt the released prisoner as best he could, because he had no alternative as paramount Druze leader but to welcome his coreligionist, but also to avoid Kontar's being used against him politically by Hizbullah. However, in the Sunni and Christian neighborhoods, as in the Druze mountains, few danced in the "national wedding" that Hizbullah celebrated. Many could plainly see that what the party had gained, they had lost.

Who can blame them, coming only two days after Bashar Assad was the darling of Paris - thanks to the efforts of the former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha, who handled the media aspect of Assad's trip, and to the French government, so indecently eager to wipe the Syrian president's slate clean. To the narcissistic Nicolas Sarkozy, a man willing to trade in the essential for the limelight, it was also a good weekend. He may not have gotten a single serious concession out of Assad, but at least he showed he was different than Jacques Chirac, an obsession of his, by trashing the former president's diplomatic achievements in Lebanon.

After the fanfare in Paris, the Syrians quietly explained that an exchange of embassies between Beirut and Damascus might actually take more time than expected. In Assad's meeting with President Michel Sleiman, the Syrian president didn't even mention delimiting the Syrian-Lebanese border. The reality is that the Assad regime has not budged one iota in its policy toward Lebanon since 2005. Indeed, it has very likely not given up on physically returning its army to the country, even if this is more difficult than it sounds, and those who suggest that Damascus only seeks influence in Beirut might want to consider why this is unconvincing.

The Syrian regime doesn't want the Shebaa Farms imbroglio resolved because it seeks to tie in any settlement over the Golan Heights to one in Lebanon. Without this linkage, Syria fears that a prior solution on the Lebanese track would block Hizbullah's ability to attack Israel from South Lebanon, which Syria wishes to use as leverage in its negotiations over the Golan. But for Syria to have real control of the Hizbullah card - an essential ingredient in strengthening its credibility in talks with Israel - it must also prove that it has the means to restrain the party. And Assad can only do that if his army is physically present in Lebanon.

Why would Hizbullah go along with this? Because it understands that such a strategy allows it to undermine Resolution 1701, which is also a Syrian priority. But also because a renewed Syrian military presence in Lebanon would shield Hizbullah against that majority of Lebanese that seeks its disarmament. In addition, the party's leadership is wagering that Syria is more interested in a process of negotiation with Israel than in a final settlement; and, most tellingly, Hizbullah seems confident that, even if a final settlement does eventually come, Syria will not have the military capability, let alone the will, to stifle the resistance.

How will the UN respond to defend Resolution 1701? Let's try not to laugh. France knows very well that Syria has violated all UN resolutions on Lebanon since 2004, particularly Resolution 1701. The French also happen to provide an important contingent to UNIFIL, which is there to implement Resolution 1701, a contingent with large Leclerc tanks that will occasionally fire shells into the empty sea. But Syrian behavior hasn't prevented Sarkozy from obstinately pursuing Assad. If you were Syria or Hizbullah, therefore, would you fear a French reaction, or that of other European states, to your efforts to emasculate UN resolutions?

Even in the halls of the European Parliament, Hizbullah's weight is being felt. An effort by some European parliamentarians to encourage the European Union to place Hizbullah on its terrorism list is now being actively opposed by Socialist representatives. Two of them recently sent out an e-mail to their comrades urging them not to vote in favor of the decision, as the issue was "sensitive" and the European Parliament "has stressed the importance to find a political solution on the Lebanese internal conflict and the agreement between all the Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah, has been considered as a positive step."

What the e-mail did not say is that the European contingents in Lebanon are now hostages to Syria and Hizbullah rather than enforcers of the Security Council's writ. The UN needs an open channel to Hizbullah, which is why many in Europe oppose the terrorism designation. But with Israel doing everything it can to strengthen Syria's hand in Lebanon, and indirectly that of Hizbullah; with the collapse of the European position on Lebanese sovereignty and UN resolutions; and with the US utterly absent from Lebanon as its presidential election nears, we have to be realistic. The independence intifada is over and Syria has entered a new phase in its effort to re-create in Lebanon what it was made to surrender in 2005.

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