Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The folly of revisiting shebaa farms

Jonathan Spyer explains the untoward interest the West has in Shebaa Farms:

In the wake of the recent Doha agreement, the US is keen to bolster the position of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the March 14 movement of which he is a part.

The Cedar Revolution, and the Saniora government which resulted from it, is considered by the US administration to be one of its most significant diplomatic achievements in the region.

Doha stipulated the creation of a new cabinet in Lebanon that would include opposition (i.e., Hizbullah and allied) representation. The US is evidently concerned about preserving the standing of Saniora and March 14 in the ongoing Lebanese political standoff.

This concern, it is understood, is shared by Sarkozy, who is considered a moving force behind the current initiative. The government of Israel is apparently willing to adopt a newly conciliatory stance on the Shaba farms in order to play its role within this process.

Rice, in Beirut, expressed her concern at Hizbullah's prominence in Lebanon and said that the administration intended to address the "real reasons and underlying causes" of this. When asked to define these, she said, according to a report in the Beirut Daily Star, that the issue of the Shaba farms must be resolved "within the context of [UN Security Council] Resolution 1701 rather than Resolution 425."

So how does this strengthen the March 14 forces?

The US administration wants to bolster Saniora and simultaneously remove the rationale for Hizbullah's continued bearing of arms. Hizbullah currently uses the Shaba farms as its central rallying cry; hence, the apparent idea is to induce Israel to cede the farms, probably to UN control. This, it is expected, will simultaneously remove Hizbullah's reason for maintaining its armed capacity - and enable Saniora to pose as the "liberator" of Shaba.

The idea is likely to backfire. First of all, while Hizbullah has declared itself opposed to the idea of placing the Shaba farms under UN jurisdiction, this will not prevent it from declaring any Israeli withdrawal as its own achievement, a delayed result of the shock and fear - and subsequent flexibility - induced in Israel by the 2006 war.

Israel, apparently wishes to be seen as aiding the forces of good. And that explains what perplexes Emanuele Ottolenghi:

That means there is nothing to negotiate on the matter–it is not for Lebanon to stake a claim on the Sheeba Farms and it is not for Israel to return the Sheeba Farms to Lebanon, given that according to the UN Israel has complied with Resolution 425 in full. It stands to no reason that Olmert should concede on this point. The Sheeba Farms issue has been settled for eight years, and reopening it means giving in on a pretext that Hezbollah has exploited far too long to justify its blatant violations of UN resolutions, Lebanese law, and the Taif agreements. So why is Olmert offering what Israel should keep?

Israel wants to be regarded as helping the West, so Olmert is willing to re-open this issue. Spyer explains why it won't work.

There were those after May 2000 who assumed that once Israel had abandoned the security zone, the former aspect of Hizbullah's identity would take precedence over the latter. This, of course did not take place. Should Shaba be ceded, Hizbullah already has a list of subsequent "grievances" against Israel that will be used to justify further "resistance."

Hezbollah will simply provide a new grievance against Israel to excuse its continued terror, just as it has done since 2000. The terror attacks that Israel absorbed from Hezbollah since 2000 and its blind eye towards Hezbollah's growing threat, essentially negated any benefit - moral or strategic - that it should have gained from withdrawing from Lebanon. It's a lesson that Hezbollah has learned well.

If Israel reopens the issue of Shebaa Farms now, in the future the world will then lean on Israel to satisfy each succeeding grievance, thereby ceding moral, legal and strategic ground to Hezbollah in the vain hope that these sacrifices would eliminate Hezbollah's raison d'etre and transform it into a legitimate political movement. But each concession will grant Hezbollah new legitimacy until Israel is forced once again to war with the terrorist group minus the advantages it ceded over the years.

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