Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Healing Lebanon in Regional Peace

Healing Lebanon in Regional Peace

Published under different title in Palm Beach Post on Sunday July 23, 2006

Ghassan Rubeiz
Florida, July 18, 2006

Through its massive air assault on Lebanon, Israel has chosen the least effective approach to weaken Hezbollah and a strategy to undermine infrastructure of the country and hope for stability in the Middle East. Solving Lebanese border crisis with military might is like performing medical surgery with a chain saw. For decades, Israel has tried to solve its problems in Lebanon with little understanding of its society. Lebanon remains a deeply troubled country. Any Israeli intervention only adds to Lebanon’s complex structural and regional problems.

On the other hand, Hezbollah’s excessive militarization, its regional partnerships with Iran and Syria and its recent attack on Israel are acts of risking a regional war and revival of domestic sectarian tension. Hezbollah fights with inferior technology and superior expectations, and the rest of the country and the region is expected to bear the consequences.

Those who know Lebanon well realize that the 1975 civil war has never really ended. In 1990, it was suppressed through an Arab sponsored peace arrangement (known as Taif agreement).
The peace agreement left Lebanese militia leaders in command of politics. Sectarian power sharing was retained. In a strange and divisive formula of power sharing, Christians are entitled the Presidency of the Republic and 50% of parliament; similarly Sunnites have the Prime Minister’s post and a percentage of legislators; Speaker of the House has to be a Shiite; Shiites get fewer parliamentarians than they deserve. Incidentally, Hezbollah indirectly exploits the representational deficit of its community to bargain for power privileges.
After Taif, Syrian and Israeli forces remained. All the militias were disbanded except Hezbollah, which assumed responsibility of fighting Israel’s occupation. Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon ended in 2000(for ten additional years) with Hezbollah’s efforts. After a humiliating Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah’s emerged as a hero and gradually acquired the status of a state-within-a-state. After thirty years of manipulative militia management, Syria was pressured to leave Lebanon last year.

For the past six years, the Lebanese state has been trying to pressure Hezbollah to demilitarize and pursue a political and social program, but this militia has become a regional force with an alliance to Iran and Syria. Hezbollah became stronger than the Lebanese army; its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, has become a most influential figure. Nasrallah is Arab’s Che Guevara now, says Robin Wright, a notable Middle East analyst.

Hezbollah-Israel war threatens the unity and integrity of the Lebanese state. The Lebanese are divided around statehood versus land liberation from Israel. In Lebanon, those groups that blame Hezbollah for provoking this crisis are protective state sovereignty. But those who support Hezbollah are eager to liberate occupied Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territory. Those who narrowly think of Lebanon’s state integrity are likely to fuel civil war rhetoric. Opponents of Hezbollah ignore angry emotions in the region and within a growing segment of the country. Almost all the Shiites are in support of Hezbollah and others, under stress of Israeli bombardment, are moving in that direction. Similarly, those who only think regionally forget that Lebanon can not remain the preferred venue for disastrous Arab wars against Israel. Extreme opinions threaten Lebanon’s integrity. When this war ends the Lebanese will have to face each other about their external loyalties, power sharing and other hanging domestic issues.
Israel is not expected to win a war against a combined force of two strong guerrilla movements that are supported by two regional states, Iran and Syria. The US has learned the hard way in Iraq that air power has limited effect in silencing local insurgents that are imbedded in densely populated supportive communities. Half a billion Muslim youth are watching TV and dreaming of Jihad victory.
On day nine of war, US administration is not under pressure to restrain Israel and reactivate the Middle East process because it fails to see relevance of Israeli occupation in Palestine and Syria and yearning of Iran for normalization of its international status. By delaying intervention US and Israel are counting on existing Western rage against Hezbollah and Hamas. They wrongfully assume that superiority of Israel in military technology will weaken the resolve of Hamas and Hezbollah in the near future.
It is also for the sake of Israel’s lasting security that US should urgently intervene in this conflict to stop blood shed and open unconditional regional peace negotiations among all involved parties.
To insist on the return of the two abducted Israeli soldiers as a precondition for negotiation is to ignore the major suffering already inflicted on the helpless Lebanese society, not to mention the carnage in Gaza. By setting preconditions to cease-fire Israel and the US miss the point that Hezbollah is not ready to surrender soon. To insist on preconditions for peace negotiations today reflects historical amnesia. It is Lebanese civilians and government that are at risk now; the real victim has no choice. If the Lebanese government were unable to restrict Hezbollah for fifteen years, why does Israel expect it to be able to succeed now?
Of all US administration since the establishment of Israel, sixty years ago, this US government has been the least mindful of Palestinian rights and their centrality to stability in the region. The Road Map the US has designed for peace has never been active. Every few years “Palestine” explodes in one form or another. In recent days it was Hezbollah that violently and provocatively reintroduced Palestine to world politics. Strangely, President Bush does not see this point when he states that “the root cause of this crisis is Hezbollah”.
Each day that passes without action for cessation of hostilities the human suffering of the Lebanese, Israelis and Palestinians is heightened. With each day of silence the solution becomes more complex. Delay of international intervention, or US leadership in resolving this crisis, is silence over a great injustice.

The author is a Lebanese American. He was former Secretary of the Middle East of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches

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