Civil Fights: Hizbullah's next pretext

Allowing border to become starting point for new territorial claims precludes any chance of peace.

nasrallah kuntar 224 88  (photo credit: AP)
nasrallah kuntar 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
I wonder whether the US administration even noticed the statement made by a senior Lebanese cleric last week: that Hizbullah will liberate seven abandoned Shi'ite villages located in pre-1967 Israel. I certainly hope so - because this comment epitomizes what is wrong with Washington's policy of pressing Israel to cede Shaba Farms to Lebanon. Shaba, located where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, was excluded from Israel's 2000 pullout from Lebanon because UN mapping experts ruled that it was Syrian rather than Lebanese. But Israel quit every inch of territory that the UN did deem Lebanese, and the Security Council unanimously certified this withdrawal as complete. Immediately after the pullout, however, Hizbullah began claiming that Shaba was also Lebanese; hence Israel was still occupying Lebanon, and Hizbullah must continue attacking it. The Lebanese government backed this claim, and Syria, to fuel the flames, refused to either assert or withdraw its own claim. All this was eminently predictable. But the world's response was shocking: Rather than upholding the Security Council's unanimous determination regarding the border, both the media and world leaders began describing Shaba as "disputed territory" and muttering about the need to resolve this new "dispute." This process culminated in Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The resolution, noting "a need to address urgently the causes of the current crisis," tasked the UN with delineating Lebanon's borders, "especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa [Shaba] farms area." In other words, rather than penalizing Hizbullah for the cross-border raid that sparked the war, the council voted unanimously to appease it by abandoning its own previous certification of Israel's withdrawal as complete. UN EXPERTS are therefore currently mapping the border. But the US is not even waiting for their conclusions: It has already decided that Shaba must be given to Lebanon. Last month, the Lebanese daily Al-Hayat quoted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as telling Lebanese officials that Washington was working to secure Israel's withdrawal from Shaba. And Israeli officials told the Israeli press they had received the same message from both Rice and President George W. Bush. Even more astonishing, however, is the reasoning Rice and Bush offer for abandoning the Security Council's unanimous decision of 2000: They want to support the Lebanese government, they say, and the best way to do so is for Israel to give Shaba to Lebanon, thereby removing Hizbullah's latest excuse for retaining its arms. That, of course, was precisely the argument for Israel's original withdrawal from Lebanon: Once the IDF left, Hizbullah would no longer have any excuse for belligerence. But Hizbullah immediately concocted a new excuse: Shaba. Thus world leaders ought to have realized that demanding yet another Israeli withdrawal fit the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results. But since they seem incapable of connecting the dots themselves, the deputy chair of Lebanon's Supreme Shi'ite Islamic Council, Sheikh Abed al-Amir Kiblan, helpfully did it for them during a conference in southern Lebanon last week. According to the Hizbullah-affiliated daily Al-Akhbar, Kiblan declared that seven villages whose Shi'ite inhabitants fled in 1948, and which were subsequently destroyed, "must return to their owners, our country and our people," and Hizbullah's arms would achieve this. In other words, ceding Shaba would not eliminate Hizbullah's pretext for keeping its arms; the organization already has its next pretext - this time located in pre-1967 Israel - all lined up and ready to go. BUT PRESSING Israel to cede Shaba is worse than pointless; it is destructive. By demonstrating that no border, even if unanimously certified by the Security Council, is actually final - that each "certified" border is merely a starting point for new territorial claims - it would preclude any chance of Middle East peace. Clearly, Israel would have no incentive for additional withdrawals under these circumstances. The point of withdrawing to a recognized international border is to a) eliminate your enemy's reasons for hostilities and b) ensure the world's backing should your enemy nevertheless continue hostilities. If instead, the world views continued attacks against Israel as grounds for redrawing the international border in the aggressor's favor, then from Israel's standpoint, withdrawing is counterproductive: It simply invites further salami-style territorial losses. Even worse, however, a Hizbullah victory over Shaba would eliminate other countries' incentive to restrain their own radical organizations. Why should they, if a mere eight years of hostilities by such an organization are sufficient to get the world to back a new territorial claim? This is especially true because in most of Israel's neighbors, hatred for Israel remains intense. A Pew Global Research poll from last year, for instance, found that more than 70 percent of Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians believe that Palestinians' "rights and needs" cannot be met unless Israel is eradicated. THUS IF Hizbullah's tactic succeeds, it would be a win-win proposition for every government in the Middle East: They could simultaneously satisfy their populations by allowing hostilities with Israel to continue, retain international backing by pleading inability to control the radicals and expand their borders at Israel's expense in the bargain, by claiming that additional Israeli concessions are needed to persuade the radicals to stop fighting. Moreover, by effectively overturning the long-standing UN principle that acquiring territory through force is unacceptable, ceding Shaba is liable to foment further conflict worldwide. After all, if Hizbullah's cross-border aggression is grounds for the world to demand that Israel give Lebanon additional territory, why should other countries hungry for a bit of their neighbors' territory not adopt the same tactic? Just allow an armed organization to perpetrate cross-border raids, claim inability to control it and then demand some of the neighbor's land to "eliminate the organization's pretext for keeping its arms." What could be simpler? It is rare that a single decision contains the potential for sowing so much havoc. But unless the US, and the world, understand that appeasing Hizbullah at Israel's expense will only invite further aggression, Shaba could well prove the spark that ignites a chain reaction of international conflicts round the globe.