On Tuesday evening, when UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs Jan Egeland returned from Ramallah to the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, he did not know that troops from the UN observer force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, had joined the growing list of casualties from the war in the north. The man who oversees humanitarian affairs and coordinates the UN's emergency relief programs did not hesitate for a moment when he declared that in order to implement UN Resolution 1559 and disarm the militias of their weapons, it will be necessary to deploy a force in the wild south that is equipped with a completely different mandate and different weapons than thos of UNIFIL. Yesterday afternoon UNIFIL reported that its troops were not hit by an errant shell, but by a precisely aimed missile.
A Western diplomatic source claimed that over the last few days, the UN has warned Israel more than once that the Israel Defense Forces are aiming too close to its installations. "I really don't understand you," the man continued. "Is this the way to convince countries to send troops to a peacekeeping force in Lebanon?" In Jerusalem, they are furious over the suggestion that someone in Israel had an interest in killing UN troops, but the incident was a reminder of the political costs that may be entailed in deploying a peacekeeping force along the line of fire.
All hopes, Egeland said, lead to Rome: "I hope that American diplomacy enlists in the effort to halt those elements with an interest in destroying what was built with great effort." Before presenting his view of the crisis in the north, a view that did not sit well with officials in Jerusalem, it was important for the Norwegian diplomat to mention that during the Six Day War, his brother volunteered on a kibbutz in the north, that he himself was a research fellow at the Hebrew University's Truman Institute and that he has many friends in Israel. He does not expound on his part in the negotiations that preceded the Oslo Agreement.
Yes, he knows that the Americans, who at the UN are considered the ones with the money and the ones who call the tunes, gave Israel a green light to continue bombing Lebanon and are not interfering with its bombing of the Gaza Strip. He has all due respect for George Bush and Condoleezza Rice. But Egeland, like his boss, Kofi Annan, wants the fire to stop immediately. "I denounce Hezbollah's attacks against Israel with the same intensity that I denounce Israel's excessive use of force," he said. "We are calling for an immediate end to the violence in Lebanon and Gaza and in northern Israel."
He asked me to stress that the security of the State of Israel is a key issue and that no one disputes its right to defend itself. "In this conflict, it has become more dangerous to be a citizen than a soldier. I know that you have a problem with the fanatics taking refuge in apartment houses and shelling from mosques and schools. There is not a shred of a doubt that you have the right to defend yourself. But no one may deal with this problem by punishing innocent civilians. It has to stop, and immediately. Unrestrained force, such as you are using today in Lebanon and Gaza, will not bring you the security you deserve. I say this to the Lebanese and Palestinians also. It is forbidden to do things that we will regret tomorrow."
He does not believe that serious people among us truly think that the destruction of hundreds of houses in Beirut and the transformation of thousands of people into refugees will bring Israel more security. For the benefit of those who cling to the belief that pressure on the civilian population is the answer to terrorism, Egeland said that this week, he found more fanaticism and more hatred of Israel in Beirut and Gaza. He estimated that the overwhelming majority of the 800,000 Lebanese who are now in need of humanitarian aid and the thousands who have found themselves in the line of fire do not blame Hezbollah.
"I found in Lebanon adults who had lost hope and turned into fatalists and young people filled with rage," said the emissary. "The civilians on both sides are losing the war. The heart breaks at the sight of how children are dying in south Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip and how people are being killed in northern Israel." Egeland says that every war he has seen convinces him even more that there are no military solutions, nor even humanitarian ones. "We, the international organizations, keep people alive until they die, or until the leaders achieve a political solution," he said.
Had the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told the UN envoy yesterday the whole truth about what very senior officials in her ministry think, he would have discovered that he has some partners in Jerusalem. Three weeks ago, a few days after the conflict began in the south and before it had started in the north, they were trying to find out from American colleagues whether it would be possible to try a different approach with Syria. The response left no room for doubt: The United States had not budged from its position that Damascus was and remains a key part of the problem, and in no way part of the solution.
Ehud Olmert knows that if he had declared that Bashar Assad is a partner, he would have had problems with President Bush. The first President Bush forgave King Hussein for the sin of supporting Iraq in the first Gulf War and invited him to the Madrid Peace Conference. The younger President Bush has an unsettled account with the younger Assad because of his support for Iraq in the second Gulf War. He does not forget and he does not forgive. In the new Middle East, according to the American president and his secretary of state, a democratic Syria will be controlled by a new administration. What administration? All attempts by officials in Jerusalem to get a hint as to what it might be were of no avail. Their warnings that the alternative - a radical Shiite regime - would stir longings for the Alawite regime fell on deaf ears.
A black hole of hatred
All attempts to focus the conversation with Egeland on the Lebanese issue were unsuccessful. He insisted on focusing attention on "the tragedy happening in the Gaza Strip." He does not understand what benefit Israel will gain from punishing 1.4 million people by cutting them off from their sources of electricity and jobs, from running water in their houses and from fresh food. "What is the message that the residents of Gaza receive from the sight of mountains of tomatoes tossed out on the side of the road at the border crossings to Israel? That they should be more productive and support peace?" And he answered immediately: "The Palestinians are falling into a black hole that generates more hatred. This vicious cycle must be stopped. Go after the weapons and munitions and leave the civilian population alone."
The saddest part of his short visit here, said Egeland, was the meeting with colleagues from international organizations. One worked with James Wolfensohn on the greenhouse project in the southern Gaza Strip, and said that everything went down the drain. Another, who invested years of work in promoting education for peace, said that no one is willing to hear anything more about his program. One said that for years he has been trying to promote projects such as bridges, and one day everything blew up.
In the meantime, it seems that the Americans have also grasped the situation and realized that a humanitarian disaster in the territories will not bring down Hamas and will not promote the vision of new Middle East, Bush-style, although the only flexibility shown in the United State's position toward Hamas came in late June, when U.S. Envoy David Welch, Rice's assistant, agreed to Mahmoud Abbas's request to allow the Arab Bank to transfer $50 million from the funds donated by the Arab League. The money was used to pay grants to 165 clerks and security service members.
Palestinian spokesmen who are aware of the sensitivity of this issue are careful to say "grants" rather than "salaries," because it is a transfer of funds for employees who work for ministers serving in the government controlled by Hamas. Those who earn less than NIS 1,500 a month received a "grant" equal to one month's salary. Those who earn more than NIS 1,500 (including security personnel, who earn NIS 1,511) received a "grant" of NIS 750. So far, the United States has even rejected the European Union's proposal to deposit the funds directly into the accounts of Palestinian Authority employees working in vital services.
Talking to Hezbollah
On April 11, 2004, the day of the infamous Tennenbaum deal, The Jerusalem Post published the following unique comments: "Hizbullah read the strategic picture just as well as countries like Iran (its patron) and Syria ... Both countries, along with other Arab nations, are rethinking their relationships with the U.S. and, consequently, with Israel. Nothing has moved yet, but a better climate has been created in the Middle East ... These strategic changes may be what pushed Hizbullah into the prisoner agreement. They may also push it into concessions, compromises, and a de facto agreement in south Lebanon. We don't have to legitimize terrorism, but we must find ways to neutralize it ... despite all the anger, frustration, and disgust we feel, we ought to talk to Hizbullah. We must exploit every possibility to reach a compromise with them and gain precious time."
The author of the above, Nahman Shai, the director general of the United Jewish Communities in Israel and a former IDF spokesman, wonders what Israel might get instead of Hezbollah. He goes on to ask: "Does it really embody all the evil in the region? What are we waiting for?" and concludes with: "We can always go back to fighting terrorism."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now