August 18, 2006
Start Talking to Hezbollah
By LAKHDAR BRAHIMI
WHAT a waste that it took more than 30 days to adopt a United Nations
Security Council resolution for a cease-fire in Lebanon. Thirty days
during which nothing positive was achieved and a great deal of pain,
suffering and damage was inflicted on innocent people.
The loss of innocent civilian life is staggering and the destruction,
particularly in Lebanon, is devastating. Human rights organizations and
the United Nations have condemned the humanitarian crisis and violations
of international humanitarian law.
Yet all the diplomatic clout of the United States was used to prevent a
cease-fire, while more military hardware was rushed to the Israeli Army.
It was argued that the war had to continue so that the root causes of
the conflict could be addressed, but no one explained how destroying
Lebanon would achieve that.
And what are these root causes? It is unbelievable that recent events
are so regularly traced back only to the abduction of three Israeli
soldiers. Few speak of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by
Israel, or of its Lebanese prisoners, some of whom have been held for
more than 20 years. And there is hardly any mention of military
occupation and the injustice that has come with it.
Rather than helping in the so-called global war on terror, recent events
have benefited the enemies of peace, freedom and democracy. The region
is boiling with resentment, anger and despair, feelings that are not
leading young Arabs and Palestinians toward the so-called New Middle East.
Nor are these policies helping Israel. Israel’s need for security is
real and legitimate, but it will not be secured in any sustainable way
at the expense of the equally real and legitimate needs and aspirations
of its neighbors. Israel and its neighbors could negotiate an honorable
settlement and live in peace and harmony. As often happens in complex
conflict situations, however, the parties cannot do it alone. They need
outside help but are not getting it.
It is perhaps too early to draw lessons from this month of madness. What
is clear, however, is that Hezbollah scored a political victory and its
leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has become the most popular figure in
the Muslim world. As for Israel, it does not seem to have achieved its
stated objectives. Should these trends continue, it is hard to imagine
stability coming to the region soon.
So what can be done? The international community should take several
steps — some concrete, some conceptual — to address the current crisis.
First, priority must be given to ensuring Lebanon’s unity, sovereignty
and territorial integrity and the full implementation of the 1989 Taif
accord, which I helped negotiate on behalf of the Arab League. This
agreement specifically required that the Lebanese government, like all
states, have a monopoly over the possession of weapons and the use of force.
Second, we must recall that Hezbollah came into existence as a
consequence of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Like all
movements, it has evolved: it was initially a militia and a resistance
movement against foreign occupation. It then developed into both a
political party and a social organization, providing valuable services
to its impoverished community.
Rather than trying to isolate Hezbollah, we should be encouraging it to
play a responsible role in the internal dynamics of Lebanon. It would
then, in turn, be legitimate to expect Hezbollah to accept the Lebanese
state’s exclusive right to possess armaments and use force.
Third, it is something of a paradox to ask Iran and Syria to sever
relations with Hezbollah while asking them to use their influence to
obtain its compliance with the cease-fire resolution. Would it not be
more effective to demand that both countries, as well as all other
states in the region and beyond, scrupulously respect Lebanon’s
sovereignty and abstain from interfering in its internal affairs?
Fourth, the most valuable contribution Israel can make to lasting peace
across its northern border is to withdraw its troops from all the
territory it currently occupies, including the Shebaa Farms.
Finally, urgent and sustained attention must be focused on the problem
that underlies the unrest in the Middle East: the Palestinian issue. A
wealth of United Nations resolutions and other agreements already exist
that provide a basis for a just and viable solution to the Middle East
One approach could be for a team of mediators to be mandated by the
Security Council and an international conference (including the Arab
League) to take on the formidable task of reviving the pre-existing
agreements that work best and then seeing that they are put in place.
If the United States and other key countries could see this conflict
through a different lens, there could be a real chance for peace. This
would be the best way to signal genuine respect and atonement for the
suffering inflicted on so many innocent people for so many years.
Lakhdar Brahimi is a former special adviser to the United Nations