Lebanon's problem is not just Shaba Farms

Syria does not recognize any of Lebanon as an independent country.

By SHLOMO AVINERI
July 30, 2006 21:39
3 minute read.
Lebanon's problem is not just Shaba Farms

har dov 88. (photo credit: )

The emergence of the Shaba Farms as a possible item in an agreement authorizing a multinational force for South Lebanon raises a number of issues of which not all the participants in the current negotiations may be aware. They go deep into the question of the very existence of Lebanon as a sovereign state. What are the issues? In the 1923 Anglo-French Demarcation Agreement, which set the borders between the British and French mandates in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, the area was included in Syria. The maps of the 1949 Israeli-Syrian Armistice Agreements similarly designated the area as Syrian. In the 1967 Six Day War, the farms were occupied by the IDF as part of its conquest of the Golan Heights. Lebanon was not involved in that war, and Israel did not engage in any fighting against it. At that time, no one - neither Syria nor Lebanon - claimed that the area was Lebanese. IN THE negotiations leading to the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Lebanon for the first time raised its claim to the farms, but based on all previous historical documents and maps, the UN sided with the Israeli version, i.e. that this was Syrian territory and subject to future Israeli-Syrian negotiations. The Lebanese claim was used by Hizbullah to continue its resistance to "Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory." Nobody, however, believes that even if the farms were handed over to Lebanon, Hizbullah would stop its armed activities which are, after all, aimed at the destruction of the "Zionist entity in occupied Palestine." SO FAR this seems straightforward - until Syria enters the picture. At the time of the 2000 Israeli withdrawal the UN asked Syria about its position on the issue. Damascus was in a quandary: On the one hand, this was obviously Syrian territory; on the other, if Syria conceded that the farms belong to Lebanon, there might be a chance of getting one more sliver of Arab territory out of Israeli hands. Syria thus responded that whatever its former claims to the Shaba Farms, it now agreed to cede them to Lebanon. But when the UN asked Damascus for a formal document stating that the area had indeed been legally transferred to Lebanon, Syria balked - and it has still not supplied such a document. WHY? AT the root of the issue is the simple fact that up to this very day Syria has not accepted the legitimacy of the existence of a separate, sovereign Lebanese state. Lebanon was carved out by the French imperial powers in the 1920s as an attempt to create a pro-Western, Christian entity in the Levant - hence France's continuous solicitude for Lebanon, including its recent support for UN decisions calling on Syria to evacuate Lebanon. This Syrian non-recognition of Lebanon as an independent state has consequences. There are no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries; there is no Syrian ambassador in Beirut, no Lebanese ambassador in Damascus; and during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s, Syria's representative in Lebanon was the director of Syrian military intelligence (Ghazi Canaan, who eventually committed suicide in murky circumstances). In Syrian textbooks Lebanon appears as part of "Greater Syria." The Syrian refusal to supply a document confirming the ceding of the Shaba Farms to Lebanon is not a mere formality: Were Syria to issue such a document - clearly stating that the farms are part of Lebanon and not of Syria - this would mean Syria recognizes Lebanon as a separate, independent, sovereign state. Syria has never accepted this, and has never made such a statement. DIPLOMATS who are now concerned with a cessation of violence in South Lebanon and northern Israel should be aware of this conundrum, which is no mere formality. If the Shaba Farms appears in any form as part of the deal, this should be accompanied by an unequivocal statement from Syria recognizing that the area belongs to the Republic of Lebanon. It is my guess that the chances of such a statement are minimal. Without it, the international legitimacy of the agreement - and its subsequent implementation - may be extremely problematic. The author is professor of political science at the Hebrew University.


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