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Lebanon and Israel: A chance for peace??


Lebanese PM Fuad Seniora surprised everyone by talking about peace with Israel recently, according to the Daily Star:

"I believe that if Israel uses all its senses and thinks wisely, I think it will be the opportunity," Siniora told reporters.

"The opportunity is how to convert what happened in Lebanon - the calamity that was inflicted on Lebanon - to make it an opportunity to move toward real peace," he said.

And Israeli PM Olmert said much the same thing in response:

"If the Lebanese government continues this way and if Prime Minister Siniora continues with his efforts to bring about a change in Lebanon, I have no doubt that negotiations"

Is it just talk, or is there something behind it? If it is serious, why are these statements being made to reporters rather than to each other through channels of quiet diplomacy?

We should careful about attributing too much to these quotes, as they may well be denied. Yediot Ahronot quotes Seniora somewhat differently:

"I think that Israel learned from the war that violence isn't the way to ensure its wellbeing," he said. "The only way to achieve peace is through negotiations. The belligerent statements made by the Israeli government, even if they're meant to quiet internal criticism, do not assist the negotiation track."

That doesn't read quite the same, does it? "Negotiations" could mean negotiations with Syria for example. "The only way to achieve peace" may be a statement in general about how one would go about achieving peace.

From the point of view of both countries, peace would be wonderful. Lebanon could finally be assured that it could rebuild in peace, and exploit its water resources (the Litani, Wazzani and Hasbani) in an agreed-upon manner. The project has been on the books for decades, but was never implemented. (see here for a dated and biased, but nonetheless informative review.) The Olmert government could save its skin and redeem the less than brilliantly conceived war by making peace with another Arab country. The US would be happy to advance the fortunes of the "fragile democracy" as it pleases Condoleezza Rice to call the Lebanese government, and both France and the US would be happy to help wean Lebanon away from Syria. Lebanon's Palestinian refugee problem could be settled by repatriating some of them, offering some of them citizenship in Lebanon, and offering the rest new homes in France, Australia, the USA and elsewhere.

In reality, formidable obstacles stand in the way of Lebanese-Israeli peace. Shebaa farms is not one of them. Israel should be happy to leave the issue up to the UN, or to turn the Shebaa farms area over to Lebanon in return for peace, especially as this would spite Syria. This tiny undeveloped area can hardly be considered a problem. It belongs to Syria according to objective determination, but who cares?

Unfortunately, talk of peace with Israel is hazardous to the health of Lebanese politicians. A phenomenon of spontaneous combustion seems to affect Lebanese leaders who talk about peace with Israel. Lebanon would have to free itself from the grip of Syria, and of the Hezbollah, who are Syrian-Iranian agents, before it could make peace with Israel. Seniora knows this, so it is not clear what he is counting on to remove the tiny problem of the Hezbollah. He announced that the Lebanese army would not disarm the Hezbollah.

Both French President Jacques Chirac and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have stated that Hezbollah must be disarmed, but they have also stated that this cannot be disarmed by force. If they cannot be disarmed by force, then how can Hezbollah be disarmed? Does someone expect that Hassan Nasrallah and his gangsters will give up their arms voluntarily? If they were to do so, it would only be in return for powerful inducements. Peace with Israel is hardly likely to be an inducement. Nasrallah would only give up his arms if Hezbollah becomes part of the Lebanese army, which would give him effective control of the government. It is inconceivable that a Lebanese government controlled entirely by Hezbollah would make peace with Israel.

For its part, Israel must make the most of the opening provided by Seniora, but that doesn't mean that peace is really possible. The pieces of the puzzle just don't fit. Not for now, anyhow. Perhaps someone is working hard at making them fit, however.

Hat tip: Jeff Weintraub.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 2 comments

"If it is serious, why are these statements being made to reporters rather than to each other through channels of quiet diplomacy?"

Maybe they are and it is actually quiet so that we don't hear it? Israel and the Arab nations are usually always in quiet diplomacy which one doesn't hear about for years later. Who knows what is being said now.

But I ask the question, so long as Hezbollah has the power to wage war for Lebanon at their own choosing, what difference does peace with the Lebanese government make? Until the Lebanese government has control over its own borders, armies within its own borders and the ability to start or stop wars on its own then it remains sadly irrelevant.

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