Solution may be at hand for Israeli-Lebanese conflict 2009-07-05 22:40:42   Print

    by David Harris

    JERUSALEM, July 5 (Xinhua) -- A possible solution to a territorial dispute over a small piece of land between Israel, Lebanon and Syria could have major positive repercussions for regional peace, a leading Israeli analyst told Xinhua on Sunday.

    A report of Israeli daily Ha'aretz on Sunday confirms what analysts have suspected for some time -- that Saudi Arabia and the United States are jointly pressuring Syria to demarcate its border with Lebanon in the area known as the Shaba Farms.

    The 22-square km mountainous ridge and valley was deemed by the UN as occupied by Israel in the wake of the 1967 War. The UN and Israel regarded Shaba as being Syrian territory.

    However, in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, both Lebanon and Syria maintained the land was Lebanese.

    Yet the UN Security Council had reaffirmed its opinion that Shaba rightfully belongs to Syria, when it issued a statement in June 2000. Despite that, the UN and the international community have called at various times for Lebanon and Syria to determine where the border between them should be drawn.

    A key reason for trying to resolve the issue is that the Syrian-- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah says it has continued legitimacy to attack Israel so long as Israel continues to occupy Shaba -- what it calls occupied Lebanese territory.

    The Lebanese-based movement with its own militia is also a key player on the political scene in Beirut. However, its defeat in the June 7 general election has given the Lebanese government the chance to call Hezbollah's bluff.

    Should Syria agree to a demarcation of the border with Lebanon, it could neutralize the Israeli claim that Shaba was Syrian territory and that a withdrawal must be carried out only in the course of negotiations with Damascus, then Israel would be asked by the international community to move its forces out of any occupied areas of Shaba.

    At that point, Hezbollah's argument regarding attacks on Israel would be nullified, Syria would be indicating to Hezbollah it does not favor strikes against Israel, Lebanese government would be given greater legitimacy and all of those factors could be a prelude to negotiations between Israel on the one hand and both Syria and Lebanon on the other.

    "The idea is quite superb, the question is how it will be implemented," said Professor Moshe Maoz of the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

    This is the latest sign that the Obama administration is working closely with moderate Arab states on a regional solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict and not just focusing on the Palestinian issue.

    U.S. President Barack Obama said publicly that he favors much of the Arab Peace Initiative, which was originally proposed by the Saudis in 2002. The plan calls on Israel to withdraw from all the land it took during the 1967 War in exchange for a normalization of relations with the Arab world, and possibly with the broader coalition of 57 Muslim states.

    "This is part of the U.S. effort to bring Syria into the pragmatic camp and it will also force Israel to enter talks with Syria," said Maoz.

    Syria and Israel have been involved in on-and-off indirect negotiations in recent months under Turkish mediation. While former U.S. President George W. Bush was not particularly supportive of an Israeli-Syrian parley, Obama said he will gladly facilitate or back any talks between Israel and the Arab world.

    While Israeli-Syrian talks are relatively straightforward to reboot, the Israeli-Lebanese track has always been much thornier.

    Israeli forces were in Lebanon as recently as 2006 in a bloody summer war with Hezbollah, which followed about two decades of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon that came to an end in 2000.

    These operations have left a generation of Lebanese Muslims and Christians highly critical of Israel. Publicly at least, the country's Prime Minister Saad Hariri has ruled out any talks with Israel, though Israeli analysts who believe that is merely a position adopted for the benefit of his own electorate say that behind closed doors, Hariri could well be ready to speak to Israel.

    Yet even though Hariri is very much a part of the pro-Western, anti-Syria camp, he would still have to wait for the nod from Syria before entering any negotiations with Israel. Syrian opinion still carries weight in Lebanon, even though Syrian troops officially withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 after an occupation that lasted about 30 years.

    That approval may only come after Syria is at an advanced stage of negotiations with Israel for the handover of the Golan Heights, the much larger territory that Israel has occupied since 1967.

    While much has been made of the hawkish stance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has negotiated with Syria in the past -- when he was prime minister in the late 1990s, he sent U.S. businessman Ronald Lauder to Damascus for secret talks with then President Hafez Assad. 

Editor: Mu Xuequan
Related Stories
Home World
  Back to Top