On 12 August, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1701 aimed at ceasing hostilities’ between Israel and Hizbullah. It went into effect at 8am this morning local time, 33 days after Israel used the pretext of Hizbullah’s capture of two IDF soldiers to wage an open war on Lebanon in order implement a joint US-Israeli plan to permanently neutralize Hizbullah ahead of a possible US attack on Iran.
While Resolution 1701 is certainly an improvement on the disastrous initial draft presented by the US and France a week earlier (see my earlier piece in CounterPunch), it remains a weak and ambiguous resolution that has ultimately rewarded the use of violence to settle disputes in breech of international law and the UN Charter itself; and is in any case not reflective of the reality on the ground in terms of the balance of terror that clearly exists between Hizbullah and Israel. This resolution will now be used by the US and Israel in a manner inconsistent with its spirit and intent, which as stated by Kofi Annan is “to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through.”
As such, Resolution 1701 includes a number of strategically placed Trojan horses’ that were inserted to circumvent Lebanese and Arab opposition to the earlier draft resolution which would have effectively rendered Lebanon a failed state, its sovereignty denied. This earlier draft was reflective of initial US and Israeli political objectives, but its successful negotiation required a swift and decisive Israeli military victory over Hizbullah in order to impose a victor’s peace terms on Lebanon under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The modifications to the early draft resolution that are embodied in Resolution 1701 thus reflect the realities of Israel’s military defeat. Perhaps more importantly, they reflect a belated, pragmatic US acknowledgement that it can no longer rely solely on Israel and the logic of a military solution to achieve its objectives in Lebanon. Key modifications thus center around reinforcing Lebanon’s “sovereignty” (supported by a beefed-up UNIFIL) in the expectation that the pro-US elements of the Lebanese government will be able to successfully disarm Hizbullah politically where Israel failed militarily. In other words, it takes us back to where we were before the Israeli war, albeit with a greater sense of urgency and the real threat of civil war looming in Lebanon should Lebanon’s current fragile political unity, achieved ironically because of Israel’s onslaught, falter.
Here are a few observations with regard to the final text of Resolution 1701:
1. It does not stop the war and does little to ensure the protection of the civilian population of Lebanon. While Hizbullah must cease “all attacks,” Israel must cease only those “offensive military operations.” There is no need to point out the obvious loopholes that exist here for Israel to attack anything, anywhere, including civilian targets, in the name of self-defense,’ or indeed carry out any offensive non-military’ operations (whatever these may be). Israel has already announced it will not lift is blockade of Lebanon in clear violation of both this resolution and international law norms.
2. The paragraph dealing with the principles of a permanent ceasefire and long term solution has removed a critical point referred to in the original draft and that is key to Hizbullah’s demands: resolving the status of the occupied Sheba’a farms. The only reference to Sheba’a in Resolution 1701 is a part of a laundry list that the UN Secretary General must compile in the next 30 days. This apparent removal of Sheba’a from the negotiation of a permanent solution, coupled with the public US guarantee that Israel will not be required to give up Sheba’a regardless of any UN report, essentially guarantees that resistance will continue, at least in the South, for many months to come.
3. It legitimizes temporary Israeli occupation of Lebanese lands until a combination of Lebanese army and expanded UNIFIL forces begin to deploy in southern Lebanon, and yet rejects the right of Hizbullah to resist occupation. Given that it may take weeks before a beefed up UNIFIL is in place to the satisfaction of Israel, Hizbullah has already made it clear that it will abide by the rules of set forth in April 1996 (agreed to by the US, Israel and Lebanon whereby the right of resistance was granted as long as they were directed against Israeli military targets in occupied Lebanon). This is a potential Trojan horse’ because it may lead to conflict between the Lebanese army and UNIFIL on the one hand, and Hizbullah on the other.
4. It adopts the Israeli narrative by placing the blame of this war entirely on Hizbullah and creating the false impression that civilian deaths and infrastructure damage in Lebanon and Israel were somehow equivalent. Hasan Nassrallah and the Hizbullah cabinet ministers made it clear that this was their first and most important reservation to the resolution, and one should not underestimate the importance to Hizbullah of setting the narrative straight in terms of legitimizing the right of resistance to Israeli occupation and aggression. It is impossible to see how any long-term plan to disarm Hizbullah if its narrative, and the terms which flow logically from that narrative (such as an effective security plan for southern Lebanon, and the negotiated exchange of Israeli and Lebanese prisoners), are not accepted by the Lebanese government and the UN.
5. It fails to question the legality of Israel’s war and does not condemn Israel’s disproportionate response to Hizbullah’s operation as well as other clear violations of international humanitarian laws as documented by the UN Human Rights Council (which has begun an investigation into Israel’s “grave violation of human rights”). In other words, it fails to distinguish between the laws of war (e.g. imminent threat to security) and the laws applicable in war (e.g. Geneva Conventions), and in so doing the resolution implicitly accepts Israel’s and America’s logic that self-defense’ may include civilians and civilian infrastructure. This could have major repercussions on the law of wars to come. 6- The resolution directs high praise to Lebanon’s seven point plan in the preamble in order to play up the role of the Lebanese government, but then goes on to ignore most of its key substantive points: the unconditional cessation of fire; the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli army to the Blue Line; the placement of the occupied Sheba’a and Kfarshouba Hills under UN jurisdiction until border delineation is finalized; and the exchange of prisoners.
7. It removes reference to a second resolution authorizing an international force under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. There can be little doubt that Hizbullah’s success on the battlefield ensured the removal of this clause; and that the Lebanese government would otherwise have had to accept it. The significance of this cannot be under-estimated, as it has averted, for now, a civil war and total breakdown of the Lebanese state, and perhaps even a regional war in which Iran and the Shia’a of Iraq would have been involved.
However, there is a potential Trojan horse’ that is inserted in the resolution’s final pre-ambular paragraph: “determining that the situation in Lebanon constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” This language is derived from Chapter 7 logic, not that of Chapter 6 which is concerned with the “Pacific settlement of disputes.” In other words, Chapter 6 is adopted before a “threat to international peace and security” is actually determined; while Chapter 7 deals with enforcement mechanisms after such a “threat” is in fact established. Since Hizbullah has been singled out for blame in Resolution 1701, and its disarming seen to be the main long-term remedy, then this is an attempt to manipulate the text to refer indirectly to Chapter 7 in order to determine that Hizbullah’s presence as an armed group’ is itself a threat to international peace and security.’
8. It creates vague”and thus potentially irresponsible–terms of reference for an expanded UNIFIL force, which has been authorized to monitor the cease fire, accompany the Lebanese army as it deploys in the South, and assist in humanitarian issues and the return of displaced people, all in addition to its original terms under 425 and 426. It is not clear how, or if UNIFIL can ever fulfill such lofty terms.
9. The key parts of Resolution 1701 as far as the US and Israeli interpretation is concerned are those dealing with the isolation and neutralization of Hizbullah. This plan requires that all states agree to an arms embargo as well as the prohibition of any technical training or assistance’ save those authorized by Lebanese government. This is clearly intended to sever links between Hizbullah and Iran and Syria. There is no mention of any arms restrictions on Israel.
Resolution 1701 clearly envisions that the long-term solution to this conflict rests on the need for disarming “all armed groups” in keeping with Resolution 1559 (previously rejected by Hizbullah), the establishment of a buffer zone free of any “armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government,” and a de facto arms embargo on Lebanon except for those authorized by the government itself. In other words, Israel and the US are openly interpreting this resolution as a de facto enforcement mechanism for 1559.
In this regard, UNIFIL is there to support the Lebanese government “in securing borders and other entry points to prevent arms or related material from entering Lebanon.” More cryptically, the resolution authorizes UNIFIL to take “all necessary action” to ensure that that the areas under its mandate are not used for “hostile activities.” This may result in UNIFIL being urged to confront Hizbullah or other armed groups in southern Lebanon. It is potentially very dangerous, and will place UNIFIL staff in danger of being seen as the enemy.
Overall, if the UN is to be judged in terms of its primary mandate, that of ensuring international peace and security via the principle of collective security, then it has quite clearly failed the people of Lebanon, just as it has the people of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. More than anything, Resolution 1701 confirms fears held by many that the UN as a political body has been demoted in the post 9/11 unipolar era to a subsidiary of the US government at the cost of its legitimacy and effectiveness. Lebanon avoided total capitulation in this resolution because of Hizbullah’s resistance on the ground and its success in achieving a balance of terror with Israel, not because the UN Security Council was applying the rules of international law in a just manner. This is a dangerous signal that the UN is sending to the world.
In the meantime, those of us living in Lebanon await news of another round of war, as political in-fighting has already begun in Lebanon between the March 14 camp and Hizbullah.
KARIM MAKDISI is Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Dept of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org