Post-Lebanon, Pre-Negotiations: Could Something Good Come Out of the Lebanon War?

MJ Rosenberg’s Weekly Opinion Column
IPF Friday
8 September 2006

Could something good come out of the Lebanon war?

It’s beginning to seem possible. And not only on the northern border where United Nations Security Resolution 1701, if actually implemented in full, will significantly reduce the Hezbollah threat — and with it the ability of Iran to manipulate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its advantage.

It would also strengthen the Lebanese state vis a vis Hezbollah and might also lead President Assad of Syria to recalibrate the pros and cons of negotiating with Israel.

No person of sound mind would bet on all of that happening, but it might. After all, it was the disastrous Yom Kippur War that led, almost directly, to a peace treaty with Egypt which has served as a centerpiece of Israel’s security strategy for a quarter century. If the Yom Kippur attack could lead to peace between the man who launched it and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, contemplating positive outcomes from the Lebanon war may not be all that far-fetched.

Of course, achieving a peaceful northern front would not be quite the accomplishment the peace treaty with Egypt was. The successful implementation of Resolution 1701, in all its parts, would not revolutionize Israel’s situation the way the Camp David Accord did. It would however significantly improve it.

But it is the Palestinian issue that remains at the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict and no agreement with Lebanon, Syria or even Hezbollah would change that. No other Arab party can “deliver” the Palestinians. Only the Palestinians themselves can move to end the conflict. If and when they do, most of the Arab players will go along.

And, according to Israeli media reports, the Palestinians may again be on the verge of abandoning the war option and pursuing negotiations. The first step would be the establishment of a unity government that would halt acts of violence and would authorize President Mahmoud Abbas to begin negotiations with Israel. Reports indicate that the unity government could be set up at any time – the Palestinian economy has collapsed and the EU has indicated that establishment of a unity government committed to ending the violence could reopen the aid spigots. Efforts to resume negotiations with Israel would follow the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners who will be freed in exchange for him.

It is also expected that the unity government would call for an international peace conference to kick start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

This is where it gets interesting.

At the same time that the Palestinians are thinking about negotiations with Israel under a international auspices, the Arab League is about to dust off the 2002 Saudi initiative which proposed full normalizations of relations with Israel in exchange for the return of all the land occupied by Israel in 1967.

The 2002 plan was both a major breakthrough and a nonstarter. On the positive side, it stated that the Arab world would, in exchange for the ’67 territories not only establish peace with Israel but full normalization: trade, tourism, etc.

However the plan never got off the ground because on the very day it was announced, a terrorist attacked killed 30 people at a hotel in Netanya. Beyond that, the plan called for Israeli withdrawal as a precondition rather than as one of the goals of negotiations and endorsed full implementation of the Palestinian right of return.

Obviously that was unacceptable to Israel. The initiative, promising as it might have been, disappeared.

But now there is a new improved version in the works. The basic difference between Arab League Initiative I and Arab League Initiative II is that the idea currently being considered in Arab capitals would not require territorial withdrawal as a precondition. Instead territorial withdrawal, along with all the other issues dividing Israelis and Arabs, would be addressed in bilateral negotiations (Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, Israeli-Lebanese) under the auspices of an international conference, much like the Madrid Conference of 1991 which kicked off Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The entire process would be kicked off by a new United Nations Security Council Resolution.

This new approach looks promising.

This is not to say that the United States should rush to embrace it. The United States is committed to the Roadmap which sadly remains buried in the glove compartment.

But the Roadmap has its advantages. In its first phase (never implemented, of course), Israel would have to dismantle illegal settlements, freeze all other settlement activity and terminate “actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; [and] destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure….”

The Palestinians would have to “declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.”

Until now, the main obstacle blocking movement on the Roadmap has been Palestinian violence. If a new unity government adopts a comprehensive cease-fire, Israel will likely move to implement its Roadmap obligations. De facto, a key condition of the first phase of the Roadmap would be fulfilled.

At that point, the two sides could be ready to start the serious give-and-take of negotiations, in the context of an international conference.

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One Comment on “Post-Lebanon, Pre-Negotiations: Could Something Good Come Out of the Lebanon War?”

  1. Mackman Says:

    I agree that the Lebanon War could lead to progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front; however, would the Israelis be ready to enter into negotations with a government that includes Hamas?


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