Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Terms of ceasefire risk inflaming Middle East instead of calming it," Vancouver Sun, August 15, 2006.

About half of Israelis polled over the weekend believe the United Nations-backed ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah that went into effect Monday will last at least a month; more than a third give it only a week. Two-thirds say the deal is no good.

Their pessimism is well-founded. The ceasefire was breached four times within hours of its implementation. More clashes are expected with Hezbollah hoping it will be seen as chasing the Israeli army out of Lebanon while Israel attempts to secure the area south of the Litani River before the arrival of an international force.

It's up to Israel to turn southern Lebanon into a demilitarized zone as envisioned in the ceasefire agreement, UN Resolution 1701, because Hezbollah has refused to give up its weapons, the Lebanese government says it won't confront the terrorist group and the UN force has been given no mandate to disarm it. In any case, it will be weeks, possibly months, before a full international force can be deployed and violence can be expected to fill the void.

The force will be a beefed-up UNIFIL, the acronym for the largely useless UN force that has been in the area since 1978. It did nothing to stop either the Palestine Liberation Organization or Hezbollah from creating heavily armed states-within-a-state from which they attacked Israel.

The new and improved version of UNIFIL will be larger -- the resolution calls for a maximum of 15,000 troops -- but may be no more effective. Lebanon won an eleventh-hour amendment to the resolution so that it falls under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter rather than Chapter 7, which would have provided the force with robust rules of engagement.

Rather than helping to resolve the conflict, the ceasefire might actually inflame it. The resolution gives UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan direction to deal with the delineation of Lebanon's territorial borders, specifically with Shebaa Farms, 25 square kilometres of scrub land Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel has maintained that its disposition will be decided in a peace agreement with Syria, but Syria claims to have relinquished the land to Lebanon despite the lack of any legal or diplomatic documents to support such a transfer. Lebanon and Hezbollah have used Israel's occupation of Shebaa Farms as justification for terrorist attacks against Israel. So Shebaa Farms may well serve as a pretext for Hezbollah's next incursion into Israel.

Furthermore, nowhere in the resolution is Hezbollah ordered to release the soldiers it kidnapped July 12, the act that triggered the war. They are only mentioned in passing in the preamble, but not in the operative language of the document that spells out what the parties must do.

While the resolution calls on the international community to extend financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, facilitate their safe return, and contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon, there isn't a single reference to the displacement of 1.5 million Israelis who will be returning to their devastated communities in the north of Israel which was bombarded by nearly 4,000 Hezbollah rockets.

Most importantly, the ceasefire ignores key players in the conflict: Iran, which provided money, arms and even a few Revolutionary Guards to help Hezbollah operate its sophisticated missiles; and Syria, which served as the conduit to transport weapons to Lebanon. By their exclusion, Iran and Syria have been given an open invitation to continue to exert their influence on the region, leading inevitably to future conflict.

The ceasefire serves to embolden Hezbollah, turning its leader Hassan Nasrallah into a folk hero and a powerful force in Lebanese politics. At the same time, it undermines Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his middle-of-the-road Kadima Party.

The Israeli poll found that 58 per cent of the public believed Israel achieved few, if any, of its objectives in the war. That's up from just 16 per cent 11 days ago. Sixty per cent of those who voted for Kadima and the Labor Party said they would not vote for them again.

Israel may have fought Hezbollah to a draw on the battlefield, but Israelis see a tie as a loss and the politicians will pay.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

See the full text of UNSC Resolution 1701 and Lebanon's Seven-Point Proposal.

"Views on the ceasefire," BBC, August 14, 2006.
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