condoleezza rice 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
'The people of this region, Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian have lived too long in fear and in terror and in violence," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, standing next to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, yesterday. "A durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and democracy in the region."
Rice is right. Such a durable solution must begin with the principle that Hizbullah is handed only defeats and Israel only victories by this war's diplomatic aftermath. Otherwise, aggression will have been rewarded and the seeds of future conflict will have been sown.
In this context, Lebanon's demand that Israel relinquish the Shaba Farms enclave, and the murmur of international support such demands are gaining, are mystifying and disturbing. The last thing Israel should do, or any nation should ask of it, is to retroactively affirm that the pretext Hizbullah has been using to attack Israel these last six years - our presence in this minuscule enclave - was justified.
What is the argument over Shaba Farms, or Har Dov, as it is known in Hebrew? The situation is perhaps best described by the UN report explaining why the UN decided this area is not part of Lebanon.
"On 15 May 2000, the UN received a map, dated 1966, from the Government of Lebanon which reflected the government's position that these farmlands were located in Lebanon. However, the UN is in possession of 10 other maps issued after 1966 by various Lebanese government institutions, including the Ministry of Defence and the army, all of which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic. The UN has also examined six maps issued by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, including three maps since 1966, which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic."
In other words, the area in question, which is located where the borders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, is disputed between Syria and Lebanon. The UN looked at the competing claims carefully and decided it is Syrian territory, so Israel did not withdraw from the area as part of its withdrawal from Lebanon.
Some have advocated that Israel relinquish the enclave to Syria in exchange for Syrian commitments not to support Hizbullah and to support the deployment of the Lebanese army on its own southern border. Syria cannot be trusted, and it is far from clear that such a deal could be enforced, but it would involve at a minimum a significant concession on Syria's part without rewarding Hizbullah's aggression from Lebanon.
The same cannot be said for handing over the territory to Lebanon, as Arab states, such as Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, seem to be urging. The UN should be the first to oppose such a proposal, which would make a mockery of its painstaking effort to demarcate the Israel-Lebanese border - also known as the Blue Line.
The fact that the Lebanese government has decided, after Rice's surprise visit to Beirut this week, to shill for Hizbullah by demanding that Israel hand over Shaba Farms indicates that the US may have overplayed its support for Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
A critical component of the "durable solution" the US is correctly seeking is for Lebanon to do something that it has failed, despite substantial international pressure, to do until now: disarm Hizbullah and prevent its rearming. Why should Lebanon take on this politically and militarily difficult task if it feels it has US support regardless?
In Jerusalem yesterday, Rice spoke of the critical need for Lebanon to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 - which means disarming Hizbullah - without playing into the hands of "those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib." Israel, as Olmert says, also supports both these objectives. Resisting all calls to hand Hizbullah a victory over Shaba Farms is a minimal necessary, if not sufficient, condition for achieving these aims.