The Lebanon War and the Failed UN Resolution

The draft resolution on the Lebanon crisis to be discussed by the UN Security Council this week is very much Washington’s resolution. The draft does not call for a ceasefire; it is qualitatively discriminatory between the two sides; it has already been rejected by the government of Lebanon as well as by Hezbollah; and even if implemented it will not bring peace.  An AP story released even before the full text was released recognized the agreement as a “major victory for the U.S. and Israel.” 

Passage of the resolution will not lead to a ceasefire, or even a significant reduction in violence; Condoleezza Rice said she did not expect the resolution to bring about an immediate end to the violence, and noted that “these things take a while to wind down.”  Israel’s justice minister Haim Ramon told the New York Times that Israel would continue its attacks and that its forces would remain in Lebanon “until the international force arrived.”  Since the current draft does not even call for creation of such a force, mentioning it only as a future goal to be addressed in a subsequent resolution, Israel’s announcement is a clear warning of continuing war. 

One of the still-unanswered questions is why France reversed its earlier position and collapsed under U.S. pressure to accept the draft. As AP described it, “France and many other nations had demanded an immediate and halt to violence without conditions as a way to push the region back toward stability.”  It is virtually certain that at least part of France’s decision (and that of other European governments backing the draft) was based on the need to respond to a widespread public demand in Europe for governments to do something to bring about a real ceasefire.  Paris may have assessed that claiming to support a ceasefire, even in the context of a resolution that will not bring it about, is politically less risky than acknowledging that U.S. power is paralyzing the Security Council.

Certainly at least part of the resolution will have the effect of forcing the government of Lebanon to oppose it, as they have so far, thus positioning Lebanon along with Hezbollah as the “rejectionist” party.  But it could turn out to be even worse – it is possible that the French capitulation to the U.S. no-real-ceasefire approach may be tied to Paris believing it can succeed at coercing Sinioria and his minions to actually support the resolution, perhaps with some “modifications”.  So far the Lebanese prime minister Fuad Sinioria, who came to power with full U.S. backing in the wake of Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon last year, has made powerful statements resisting Israel’s assault. But Sinioria described the U.S.-French draft resolution as “not adequate,” while his cabinet spokesman went to great lengths to explain that the government had not rejected the draft entirely, believing that it “goes some way, but has weaknesses.”  It was left to Lebanon’s speaker of the parliament and top negotiator with France and the U.S., Nabih Berri, to make clear that the resolution agreement was based on “dictation, not negotiation.” It was based, he said, on “Israel’s requirements, but not Lebanon’s needs.”  A similar position, voiced by Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa, will significantly shore up Lebanon’s rejection.  Iran and Syria both quietly rejected the resolution, but without fanfare or new threats.

Problems in the proposed resolution:

1)  The first operative paragraph (after the preamble) sets the stage. It calls for “a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.”  So right from the beginning there is no mutual ceasefire; Hezbollah must immediately cease “all” attacks, while Israel is only required to stop “offensive” military activity, with no definition of what Israel might consider “defensive” and therefore acceptable under the terms of the resolution. There is no identification of what agency (the UN, UNIFIL, the Lebanese army, whoever) might play a role in determining what is offensive and what is defensive.  Nothing in the resolution requires an Israeli withdrawal of its occupying forces from Lebanon.

2)  Overall the resolution is consistently one-sided, holding Hezbollah responsible for all actions and requiring action largely from Hezbollah, while failing to acknowledge any Israeli responsibility.  This includes origins of the conflict: the resolution defines the hostilities beginning with “Hizbollah’s attack on Israel on 12 July 2006,” ignoring Israel’s role in transforming a border skirmish into a full-scale regional war.  It implies parity between the vastly disparate levels of death and destruction on the two sides, even failing to identify Israeli war crimes in the legalistic language of being “disproportionate.”

3)  The resolution ignores the link between the Lebanon war and Palestine – in fact it does not mention Gaza at all.  In asserting as the only cause for the current war the Hezbollah attack of July 12 (when the two Israeli soldiers were captured), the resolution delinks the Lebanon war from Palestine, and implicitly continues Israel’s U.S.-granted green light to continue its on-going assault in Gaza.

4)  On the question of prisoners, there is no reference to a prisoner exchange. There is a specific demand for the “unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,” but in relation to the Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, there is only a reference to “encouraging the efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.”  That means no actual pressure on Israel at all.  There is no mention of the 9,400 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, whose release (at least that of the 300 or so children and 125+ women among them) was part of the first demand by Hezbollah in exchange for the captured prisoners.

5)  There is no reference to Israel’s use of internationally-designed illegal weapons. The resolution does call on Israel to turn over to the UN maps of its mine fields in south Lebanon (remaining from its 18 years of occupation) but there is no requirement that it cease its current use of prohibited cluster bombs (which become land mines when they do not detonate immediately) and white phosphorous ammunition.

6)  The resolution describes what a future permanent ceasefire might look like, but does not call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire now. It raises the future intention of the Council to authorize creation and deployment of a “UN mandated international force to support the Lebanese armed forces and government in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution.” Left unclear is whether this would be an actual UN “blue helmet” peacekeeping operation, created by and accountable to the UN, or a UN authorization for a so-called “coalition” that would be made up of a number of countries operating under a UN grant of legitimacy, but without actual UN oversight or control.  The reality on the ground, of course, would look suspiciously like a re-occupation of southern Lebanon carried out by Washington’s NATO allies rather than by Israeli troops directly. The only possible hopeful sign of this aspect is the staged separation into two resolutions before trying to create the “international force.” The current draft resolution is NOT taken under Chapter VII — the follow-up resolution referred to would be under Chapter VII, necessary to authorize the use of force.  France has taken the position that it would not send troops until after a ceasefire is in place AND until Hezbollah as well as the Israeli and Lebanese governments had agreed — something that’s not likely to happen any time soon.  Absent that agreement, it is likely France would refuse to go forward.

7)  There is no reference to the seven-point plan proposed by the government of Lebanon, which begins with an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and includes a set of conditions after such a ceasefire. That would include Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, UNIFIL (the UN’s peacekeeping monitors on the ground) to monitor the withdrawal, the Lebanese army to take over control of the southern part of the country, and more. Lebanese officials stated that the two Hezbollah ministers within the Lebanese cabinet agreed with the call for a single national army under government control, and thus an end to their independent militia, but only if the entire package, beginning with an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, was acceptable.

As of now, the danger for civilians caught up in the war is mounting. If the proposed resolution passes, it will likely do so over the rejection of Hezbollah, and possibly over the resistance of the Lebanese government itself. It would call on Hezbollah to carry out an immediate and essentially unilateral ceasefire, something certain to be rejected, and Hezbollah will therefore not be bound by its terms.  Israel will see the resolution as legitimating continued attacks on Lebanon, in the name of “defense.”  If the resolution fails, the war will continue, but there will likely be a major propaganda offensive designed to undermine the global consensus that this is Israel’s and Washington’s war – and instead to project Hezbollah and Lebanon itself as the rejectionists of peace. 

For the global peace movement, the demand must continue for (1) an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. Anything less – a “cessation of hostilities” set for some time in the future, a one-sided ceasefire imposed on Hezbollah but not on Israel – set the stage for the war to continue, and for more civilians to be killed.

(2) We must continue to educate and mobilize against this war as an arm of Washington’s effort to re-map a “new Middle East.”  The destruction of Iraq, the U.S.-led international sanctions and embargo against Palestine in the context of an escalating Israeli military assault in Gaza, and Israel’s current war of annihilation against Lebanon, all are part of a linked U.S.-Israeli strategy to eliminate all resistance to their regional domination and control. The Bush administration is not supporting Israel because its resident neo-cons are more loyal to Israel than to the United States, but because their vision of a strategically unchallenged U.S. drive towards global empire, in which no nation or group of nations anywhere in the world even imagines it could match or surpass U.S. economic or military might, requires a militarized, expansionist Israel to play that same role on a regional level in the Middle East
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her newest book is Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power.


Leave a comment