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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese Government

The Jerusalem Post recently published "exclusive" information that:

The US is "counseling" Israel to negotiate a possible withdrawal from the Mount Dov (Shaba Farms) area with Lebanon as part of a long-term arrangement for Lebanon...This issue was one of the focuses of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's talks in Jerusalem Tuesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The article then presents the following analysis

Regarding the day after the fighting, however, one component to emerge from Rice's meetings here Tuesday was a feeling among the Americans that eventually getting to a "cessation of hostilities" will entail both Israel and Lebanon - Lebanon, not Hizbullah - being able to point to some kind of victory. In this formula, Israel's victory would clearly be a roundly defeated Hizbullah pushed back from the northern border. For the Lebanese, a victory could be an Israeli withdrawal from Mount Dov, and a massive international aid package.


The US is not pressing Israel on the issue, but is discussing with Jerusalem when the right time would be to put it on the table... The concern in both Washington and Jerusalem is that a willingness to talk about this not be interpreted as a victory for Hizbullah. Nevertheless, the US is counseling Israel to consider when to raise the issue.

On the other hand,

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev, when asked whether Israel would be willing to discuss this matter with the Lebanese, said, "As far as I know, no one in the international community believes that Shaba farms is part of Lebanon."

What is worrying about the Americans' analysis is that there is no mention of a contingency plan in the possibility of an Israeli failure to "roundly defeat" Hizbullah and push them off the border.

Moreover, if the Jerusalem Post's information is anywhere near true, then it reveals the extent that the Americans are wrecklessly compromising the Lebanese government. Fouad Siniora in his speech in Rome alluded to the Shebaa farms and to the Lebanese prisoners. I think he is gambling, spurred on by the US on the exact scenario described above. Some form of military conclusion to the entire offensive on Lebanon would be followed by negotiations which then lead to the return of the two Israeli troops - via the Lebanese government - and the deployment of some non Hezbolla forces in South Lebanon. In return, Israel would release the Lebanese prisoners as well as possibly return the Shebaa farms to Lebanon.

The danger herein lies in that Lebanon cannot afford for its government to fail. It is already strained with the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and its failure to bring it to an end. The Lebanese economy is reeling and there is probably large pressure on the Lira (as the 1 billion dollar Saudi deposit in Banque du Liban seems to indicate). Worse yet, the government has a history of not achieving any major successes mainly due to the stalling of the Syrian stooge in Baabda and the Hizbulla led pro-Syrian Lebanese.

The Lebanese government needs an achievement in the eyes of its people. It needs to be able to show that the path it has chosen, the March 14 path, leads to positive results. Such an achievement can come in the form of liberating both land and prisoners through government led negotiotians.

However, if this government fails to deliver and consequently falls under the strain of internal pressures and external failures, then you can kiss our hopes of democracy and prosperity goodbye.
I hope the Americans realize this.


Meanwhile, Haaretz posted the following:

The United States, which fiercely opposed the calls for an immediate cease-fire during the Rome conference Wednesday, has been working on its own proposal for solving the conflict in Lebanon.
Its initiative calls for Israel's withdrawal from the Shaba Farms and a deployment of NATO forces to guarantee Hezbollah's disarmament.


...The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Lebanese sources Wednesday as saying that Rice presented this proposal to officials in Beirut earlier this week. While the U.S. initiative calls for transferring control of Shaba Farms to Lebanon, it stipulates that the permanent international border will not be determined if Syria continues to refuse to agree on the boundaries of this area. The UN is to be in charge of handing Shaba Farms over to Lebanon.

So perhaps there is some credibility to these reports... This still doesn't negate the fact that any such "deal" will have to either go through Hizbolla or be forced upon them - both unlikely scenarios at this point in my opinion.

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