UN working on new deal between Israel and Lebanon
The United Nations is working toward a new diplomatic arrangement between Israel and Lebanon that will be based on implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty, and the deployment of the Lebanese army to southern Lebanon.
The arrangement will be based on principles concluded at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg earlier this week, which include the unconditional return of the abducted Israeli soldiers, cessation of rocket attacks against Israel, an end to the Israeli assault on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and the release of Hamas officials arrested by Israel following the raid on Kerem Shalom in late June.
The UN delegation visiting Jerusalem yesterday told senior Israeli officials there is no value in a cease-fire without a broad diplomatic agreement. If Lebanon refuses direct talks with Israel, the arrangement will be negotiated through mediators or anchored in a new Security Council Resolution. The UN diplomats assessed that achieving an agreement would take weeks, perhaps even months.
The visiting UN diplomats told Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that their aim is to bring a real change to the strategic reality on the ground. "If we return to the situation that existed before the current confrontation, it will only be a matter of time before the fighting is resumed," they said.
The UN officials stressed that it is important to settle the Shaba Farms issue, which Hezbollah has used as an excuse for attacks against Israel. They also said it would be necessary to restructure or reorganize the UN force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, which is ineffective.
Special adviser to Secretary General Kofi Annan, Vijay Nambiar, former special representative to the region on behalf of the UN, Terje Roed-Larsen, and special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Alvaro De Soto, attended yesterday's meeting with Livni.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined the meeting, as a sign of courtesy to the UN diplomats, after he had originally refused to meet the delegation.
Olmert told the diplomats that Israel "will continue fighting Hezbollah, and will carry on striking the organization's targets until its abducted soldiers are returned, and until the security of Israeli citizens is guaranteed."
The prime minister also expressed serious doubts regarding the idea of a multinational force and its deployment in southern Lebanon.
"It's a good headline, but our experience shows that there is nothing behind such proposals," he said. "Such a force exists in Lebanon today, and we have seen what they have done. I want to be careful on this issue, and I think it is too early to discuss this matter."
During the meeting, Israeli officials reiterated there would be no agreement to exchange the abducted soldiers for prisoners held in Israel, and said that the prisoner exchange with Hezbollah in January 2004 had been a mistake for which Israel paid dearly.
Livni told the delegation that Israel would not agree to a return to the status quo in Lebanon before the fighting began, and raised four important issues:
1. The proposed arrangement must include a mechanism that will prevent the rearmament of Hezbollah at the end of the confrontation.
2. The deal must include all Lebanese territory, not only the south, because it is still possible to launch long-range missiles against Israel.
3. Israel has a clear interest in the assertion of sovereignty by the Lebanese government over the entire country.
4. UNIFIL is neither effective nor relevant in its current structure.
The main disagreement between the UN and Israel at this stage revolves around the order of the steps that need to be taken. Israel demands a linear motion that will begin with the return of the abducted soldiers and move on to a cease-fire.
The UN is proposing a collective package in which all steps will be carried out at once.
Israel somewhat softened its stance on the deployment of an international force in Lebanon after a cease-fire, and Livni said that while it is preferable to deploy the Lebanese army in the South, "if there is a problem of effectiveness, we will consider additional proposals."
Livni added that an effective force was necessary, and stressed that any deal would have to safeguard Israel's right to respond if attacked.
The UN diplomats left Jerusalem for the Gaza Strip after the meeting for talks there, but their attention was clearly focused on the immediate problem in Lebanon.