Sunday, July 23, 2006

posted by Ofer

No Peace with Lebanon

At first glance, peace between Lebanon and Israel seems to be well within our reach. Like us, the Lebanese are cultured, literate and democratic. Their society is a fragile mix of different sects and religions, so they have first-hand experience with tolerance and co-existence. Prime minister Siniora seems to be a reasonable, intelligent man. Most importantly, Lebanon is far too weak to share Iran and Syria's point-of-view regarding Israel. If you think about it, Lebanon is a very natural partner for peace, even more than Egypt or Jordan.

Nevertheless, Israel does not have a peace treaty with Lebanon, and probably won't for many years to come. As I see it, there are two main obstacles which stand in the way of peace with Lebanon: a small obstacle and a big obstacle. The small obstacle is Syria's control over Lebanon. Despite the recent withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, Syria's influence on internal Lebanese politics remains strong. If anything, our present offensive in Lebanon is strengthening Syria's influence. Lebanon won't engage in peace talks with Israel as long as it doesn't suit the Syrians. The reason I call this a small obstacle is that we know how to overcome it: peace talks with Lebanon should be conducted in parallel with peace talks with Syria.

A much bigger obstacle involves the 400,000 Palestinians currently living in refugee camps in Lebanon. Most Arab countries want Israel to settle its business with the Palestinians purely out of solidarity with the Palestinians. Lebanon, on the other hand, has its own personal agenda regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Lebanese desperately want every last Palestinian refugee out of their country. The Lebanese government and the majority of the Lebanese people reject any permanent integration of the Palestinian refugees, using the pretext that granting citizenship to the Palestinians, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, would upset the delicate sectarian balance in Lebanon. Moreover, the Lebanon still holds a grudge against the Palestinians for their role in starting the civil war. The refugees in Lebanon have no political, social or civil rights, and are discriminated against in almost every sense of the word.

The Lebanese are putting their faith in the infamous "Palestinian Right of Return", the demand made by refugee Palestinians to return to their pre-1948 homes, inside the Israeli green line. However, the consensus is Israel is that the right of return is an unrealistic demand can never be granted. The right of return only sounds reasonable when spoken in Arabic. Israelis see it as a very real existential threat. The only hope is that the Palestinians will agree to "return" to new homes within the Palestinian territories. Whether this is likely to happen or not, I do not know.

Anyway, almost every other Arab-Israeli issue must be addressed before peace with Lebanon can be discussed. So there you have it: no peace with Lebanon.


Anonymous Avishai said...

Ofer, haven't you forgotten Iran?
Isn't it the main driver here? My feeling is that this "war" is not between Hizbolla and Israel, but rather between the fanatic Islamic forces led today by Iran and the whole western civilization. What else does Hizbolla have to do with Israel after it withdrew from Lebanon six years ago? There is no teritorial dispute here except for the fact that Israel itself is viewed by them as a thorne stuck in the middle of the Arab Middle East. Actually stuck in the frontline...

6:59 PM  
Blogger Ofer said...

Don't forget that Iran is not an Arab country. So you should probably say "Muslim Middle East" instead of "Arab Middle East".

I think that Iran has no direct influence on Lebanon, only on Hizbullah. If the Syrians ever pull the plug on Hizbullah, they will also be pulling the plug on Iran's influence.

11:19 PM  

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