April 17, 2008
The United Nations Security Council's statement on the secretary general's latest report regarding the implementation of Resolution 1701, which ended hostilities in the summer 2006 war with Israel, was not worth the wait. It took weeks for the document to be shaped in such a way as to overcome objections from some members, and the final version was predictably milquetoast.
Nonetheless, the statement indirectly reinforced the council's tendency to concentrate on the wrong issues. In so doing, it missed yet another opportunity to make even infinitesimal progress on some of the very goals it invoked - specifically the implementation report's call for "a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution" and the statement's expression of "the importance of ... a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."
One problem with the entire process has been an undue emphasis on Hizbullah's weapons and access thereto. The question of whether or not those arms have, on the whole, caused additional conflict or prevented it can be debated forever. In July and August of 2006, for example, destroying the arsenal of the resistance was an official (albeit wholly unrealistic) war aim of the Israeli government.
The weapons therefore contributed to the terrible damage and casualties inflicted by the Israeli military. On the other hand, during all the years that Hizbullah conducted low-intensity warfare against Israeli occupation forces in South Lebanon (and perhaps even in 2006), there were many instances in which its capacity to exact a heavier toll deterred or limited escalation by the Jewish state.
No such doubts obtain, though, when it comes to explaining why Hizbullah came into existence: That process was the direct result of Israeli aggression. Today the party serves a far wider variety of social, political and economic purposes, but it was born of a refusal to acquiesce in Israel's continual abuse and bullying of this country.
The history matters more than anything else because solving a problem requires an understanding of cause and effect - and because the historical behavior that created the situation has not changed: The Israelis have not, for example, fully vacated the Lebanese territory they occupy, stopped violating Lebanese airspace, or provided badly needed firing data that might help demining crews clear unexploded ordnance that has killed or wounded 300 Lebanese since the end of the 2006 war. By stressing Hizbullah's guns today instead of the decades of innumerable depredations to which they have been a response, therefore, the Security Council tries to put the cart before the horse.
Unfortunately, the Lebanese government continues to go along with large parts of this backward reasoning. Some of this is due to its power struggle with the opposition, in which Hizbullah is a central member. The pressures of the internal competition have become huge variables in the ruling March 14 Forces coalition's calculations, contributing to a combination of desperation and opportunism that has seen Beirut enthusiastically embrace some of the very terms of the Israeli blackmail to which it was subjected in 2006.
The bottom line is that Hizbullah will not grant impunity for the Israelis to run roughshod over the Lebanese as they have the Palestinians. The sooner the Security Council absorbs that immutable fact, the sooner it can get to work on the source of the conflict. If not, it becomes even more important for March 14 to do so because if Israel retains its "free pass," this country and its government are going to need all the strength they can muster.
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