David Fromkin's excellent study of the World War I peace settlement's effect on the Middle East was titled A peace to end all peace.
That title would be equally apt for a proposal put forth by Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and France for ending the current round of fighting in Lebanon.
According to Haaretz
, the proposal calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire, followed later by implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which mandates Hizbullah's disarmament and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border.
However, there are two catches: Resolution 1559 would be implemented only via negotiations among the various Lebanese factions, and only if Israel agrees to withdraw from a small piece of land called Shaba Farms.
Conditioning the resolution's implementation on the agreement of all Lebanese factions, including Hizbullah, virtually guarantees that it will never be implemented at all.
These factions have already been conducting a so-called "national dialogue" on this issue for a year, yet far from producing progress toward Hizbullah's disarmament, Hizbullah's arsenal has grown steadily during this period.
There is no reason to believe that another round of "national dialogue" would end any differently: Not only would Hizbullah certainly veto its own disarmament; the other Lebanese factions seem unlikely even to press very hard, given their unanimous public defense over the last two weeks of Hizbullah's "right" to attack Israel.
EVEN MORE serious, however, is the proposal that Hizbullah's disarmament be conditioned on an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms, thereby rendering meaningless the UN's own certification, just six years ago, that Israel had withdrawn from every last inch of Lebanese territory.
This certification, unanimously issued by the UN Security Council following Israel's pullout from Lebanon in May 2000, was based on the recommendation of UN experts who carefully studied old maps of the border and compared them to Israel's withdrawal line.
However, Hizbullah rejected the UN's determination, claiming that an additional bit of land, Shaba Farms, was also Lebanese (the UN experts deemed this land Syrian). Therefore, it announced, it had every right to continue attacking Israel in order to "liberate" Shaba Farms.
SUCCESSIVE Lebanese governments - both the former Syrian-controlled government and the new government elected following Syria's ouster from Lebanon - promptly backed this claim, and the international media followed suit: Within months, the UN determination that Shaba Farms was not Lebanese had virtually disappeared from coverage of the region; instead, the area was referred to as "disputed territory."
Now the Saudi-Lebanese-French proposal seeks to reverse the UN's finding entirely: By declaring that Israel must withdraw from additional territory before Beirut is obliged to take the steps needed to stop attacks against Israel from Lebanon, it essentially implies that Israel is still occupying part of Lebanon, and therefore continued attacks against it are justified.
Moreover, the UN itself appears to be backing this proposal: While UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has not (as of this writing) formally thrown his weight behind it, the UN delegation that he sent to the region last week to draft recommendations on ending the fighting reportedly told him that the Shaba Farms issue must be resolved as part of any deal, since otherwise Hizbullah would continue using it as a pretext to attack Israel.
IF THE international community gives into this Hizbullah blackmail it will decisively preclude peace in the Middle East for decades to come - because it will ensure that no deal is actually final. Instead, each agreement will merely be the starting point for a new round of territorial claims.
Clearly, Israel would have no incentive to withdraw from additional territory under these circumstances.
The point of withdrawing fully to a recognized international border is to (a) eliminate the other country's reasons for hostilities and (b) ensure the international community's backing should the other country nevertheless continue hostilities. If instead, the international community decides that continued attacks against Israel are grounds for redrawing the recognized international border in the aggressor's favor, such withdrawals are not only pointless from Israel's standpoint, they are actually counterproductive, simply inviting further territorial losses, salami-style.
Even more importantly, a Hizbullah victory over Shaba Farms would completely eliminate the incentive for other countries to ensure that radical organizations within their borders keep the peace with Israel.
Why should they, if a mere six years of laying claim to a new bit of territory, accompanied by sporadic guerrilla and/or terror attacks against Israel, are sufficient to get the international community to back the new claim?
This is particularly true given that even in countries that have signed treaties with Israel, hatred for Israel remains intense.
A Pew Global Research poll from June 2003, for instance, found that 85 percent of Jordanians, 80% of Palestinians and 90% of Moroccans believe that "the rights and needs of Palestinians" cannot be met unless Israel is eradicated. (This poll did not include Egypt, but other polls show similar anti-Israel sentiment in that country.)
Thus if Hizbullah's tactic proves successful, it will be a win-win proposition for every government in the Middle East: They can simultaneously satisfy their populations by allowing hostilities with Israel to continue, retain international backing and support by pleading inability to control the radicals, and expand their borders at Israel's expense into the bargain by claiming that additional Israeli concessions are needed to persuade the radicals to stop fighting.
WHEN ISRAEL left Lebanon in 2000 it obtained the most binding international certification possible that it had withdrawn fully. By declaring that Israel must nevertheless make further territorial concessions in order to end cross-border aggression from Lebanon, the Saudi-French-Lebanese proposal effectively overturns the longstanding UN principle that acquiring territory through force is unacceptable and legitimizes such cross-border aggression as a means of achieving territorial goals.
Thus unless the rest of the international community decisively rejects the idea of conditioning Hizbullah's disarmament and the Lebanese army's redeployment on an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms, the Lebanese cease-fire deal will prove the death knell of Middle East peace for many years to come.