To Escape Fragmentation, Lebanon Must Redefine Sovereignty
It's without a doubt that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon has become the core issue of all issues disputed between Arab states and Israel in the ongoing quarrel of the peace talks. For Israel, Lebanon has grown to become its worst nightmare, while for Syria, Lebanon is certainly a needed asset, significant enough to tip the scale of negotiations in its favor. But, how does Lebanon's fate meet the aspirations of the people of Lebanon, the government and the awaited true sovereignty?
Israel's right to occupy a part of Lebanon can be easily contested, not only through UN resolutions, but also through simple human rationale. But what can hardly be disputed is the fact that Israel's aggression against Lebanon has helped to redeem -- perhaps temporally -- Lebanon's internal fragmentation and disputes. Another factor that has helped to bring about that redemption, is the over 30,000 Syrian troops stationed in various locations around Lebanon. Syria's backing of the Lebanese government has assisted the latter to consolidate its roles to contain its rivals, and to prevail over battling militias which have tormented the small country long enough.
Yet, the nearing of the foreseen Israeli pullout is already introducing fundamental questions to Lebanon and Syria's future relations, and it even questions the nature and the status of their relations all together. The future of the Syrian troops will eventually become a hammering dilemma, especially if the Syrian government and the Lebanese disagree on the function of the Syrian army, or the need for its mission in Lebanon to be prolonged.
Both Syrian and Lebanese officials have time and again proclaimed that the future of their countries is inter-connected, The reason behind this intimacy is apparently unrelated to Arab nationalist ideas, nor neighborly relations, otherwise the Palestinian front would have become part of that alliance as well. The evident assumption is that both countries, Lebanon and Syria, are in need of each other. Lebanon has much to worry about in the future and plenty to handle in the present. The overall Lebanese infrastructure remains shattered and even worsening with Israel's painful and frequent air strikes that target vital energy production sites. Such economic devastation is likely to produce social uproar and dissatisfaction with the government's performance. The weakness or the strength of the Lebanese government were little tested, since Syria's influence eased the burden of power consolidation for the Lebanese government. Last but most certainly not least, Lebanon's attachment to Syria's presence is greatly influenced by its fear of being significantly disadvantaged if it had to face the Israeli negotiators all alone. While Israel has demonstrated its unilateral negotiation skills, Lebanon was convinced that a lonely confrontation with Israel will make her easy prey.
The Syrian government also has its reasons to continue such an alliance with Lebanon. Bickering over the future of the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel has caused little discomfort to the latter and much to Syria. For Israel, every delay in the talks help to drain the patience of its opponent.
Through Israel's experience in negotiating with Egypt and the PNA, a sudden introduction of peace deals and significant withdrawals create panic among most Israelis. But creating rivals among Arab nations strengthens Israel's stand. Therefore, delaying with the Syrians, while re-deploying its troops from 6.1 percent of the West Bank, then talking with the Syrians again, then vowing to withdraw from Lebanon unilaterally is the name of the game played by Israel. Though the success of the Israeli tactic, in terms of Israeli public opinion, remains undetermined, Syria's frustration is visible. Ehud Barak's vows to depart Lebanon by July with or without a settlement is a major cause of worry to Syria, who hates to lose the Lebanese front, which has proved to be Israel's weakest point.
The proposed Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon prior to an overall peace settlement is as strategically harmful to Israel as it is to Syria. Israel believes that without a Syrian guarantee to security in the south, the hand of the Lebanese resistance is likely to continue posing threats in northern Israel. But since the Syrian refusal to give any guarantees, (for Lebanon after all is an independent country) is firm, Israel has sought to twist Syria's arm by setting a precise date for withdrawal from South Lebanon.
In the midst of this pushing and pulling and twisting of arms, the will of the Lebanese government seems to be undermined. Such undermining is very problematic since Lebanon's primary shortcoming in the past failed to ensure true sovereignty and free will. So, once the Israeli withdrawal is secured, Lebanon must look inward to redefine the government's authority and to reconstruct its relationship with Syria accordingly. Otherwise the same circumstances that led to Lebanon's past fragmentation will resurface, sooner or later.
Topics: Foreign Policy, Lebanon, Occupation, Syria