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Monday Jul 24, 2006

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

On NBC's Meet The Press, Dubya's Chief of Staff Josh Bolten repeated the White House's main talking point, that the "root problem" is "Hezbollah."

Which means that the White House won't support a cease-fire, because that would mean Israel would have to stop shooting at the "root problem."

However, the Bush-backed Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, has a decidedly different take on what the root problem is: Shebaa Farms.

From CNN's Late Edition:

WOLF BLITZER: What about the fears in Israel of all of these rockets coming in, potentially even longer-range ones going beyond Haifa to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Who's going to make sure that Hezbollah is disarmed as a militia, disbanded, which of course was the responsibility of the Lebanese government since U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 was passed six years ago?

SINIORA: ... I think the way how to really deal with ... the presence of long-range missiles and so on ... is to really go directly into the crux of the problem.

What is the problem? The problem is the occupied territory in the Shebaa Farms.

And once we really address the issue, then everything else will start to really get the solution for it.

I strongly believe that the Lebanese government should really prevail over all of the Lebanese territory, and there shouldn't be any weapons in Lebanon other than in the hands of the Lebanese government.

BLITZER: But can you do that? Can the Lebanese army go into south Lebanon and take charge and effectively disarm Hezbollah?

SINIORA: Yes. But ... this is within the perspective that we are addressing the issue of the occupied territory.

As long as the Shebaa Farms is still occupied, then it becomes really impossible to really deal with these issues...

Unless you are steeped in the details of the Middle East conflict, you probably don't know what the whole Shebaa Farms thing is about.

But it has a great deal to do with why war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah this month.

In my Star Tribune op-ed this past Saturday, when tracking the true origins of the current violence, I focused on how Hamas militants provoked Israel to derail moves by Hamas pragmatists towards a recognition of Israel.

When discussing how Hezbollah piled on after the Gaza flare-up, I only mentioned in passing that "Hezbollah [also] was seeking an opportunity to provoke Israel, because if outstanding issues between Israel and Lebanon were resolved, Hezbollah's reason for being would evaporate."

One of the main outstanding issues is Shebaa Farms, a small area of land with plenty of water that Lebanon claims and Israel occupies.

But wait, haven't we been told repeatedly that Israel fully withdrew from occupying southern Lebanon in 2000?

Haven't right-wingers like David Brooks been crowing that, "You can ... kiss goodbye to the land-for-peace mentality ... this crisis follows withdrawals in Lebanon ... ."

Well, that ignores that there still is disputed occupied land, namely, Shebaa Farms.

Israel argues that Shebaa Farms is historically Syrian, and part of its occupation of the Golan Heights, not part of its earlier occupation of southern Lebanon.

But Lebanon begs to differ.

And Hezbollah uses the Israeli presence there to claim is still engaging in resistance, and in turn, justify being armed. (If there's no land being occupied, there's not much to resist.)

Further, Syria hasn't been interested in asserting a claim on the land, because that would resolve the Israel-Lebanon dispute, helping Israel and undermining Hezbollah.

So that's the long-standing issue.

But there were moves to resolve it right before the recent violence.

This past May, the new Lebanon government was trying to step up pressure on Israel to withdraw, and they scored a UN resolution calling for Syria and Lebanon to clearly define their borders -- an implicit call to resolve the Shebaa Farms matter.

Then just last month (link via Free Cedar), Israel indicated it was receptive to the idea of withdrawal, despite being cool to the idea last September, apparently intrigued by the possibility it could directly lead to the disarming of Hezbollah.

(In late June, published several essays offering the pros and cons for addressing Shebaa Farms.)

Seeing its final token on the verge of disappearing, Hezbollah looked for a opportunity to provoke Israel and scuttle the hopes for withdrawal.

As Gaza flared up, Hezbollah pounced, and Israeli predictably responded in kind.

Once again, what the militants wanted.

Israel's firepower is not what Hezbollah was afraid of.

It's afraid of a peaceful resolution of disputes between Israel and Lebanon, chiefly Shebaa Farms.

Siniora is desperately trying to get his buddy Bush to grasp that.

(Other similar thoughts on how to address the underlying disputes and disarm Hezbollah come from Slate's Fred Kaplan, former Amb. to Israel Martin Indyk and Kofi Annan.)

Posted by Bill Scher on Jul 24, 2006 email post email Spotlight / / You are in Israel-Palestine/ Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
Posts Near Jul 24, 2006