Israel mulling non-aggression treaty with Lebanon
Pact would include solution to disputed Shaba Farms area, coordination between IDF, Lebanese army.
The Foreign Ministry is examining an initiative aimed at reaching a long-term non-belligerence pact with Lebanon to prevent renewed fighting along the northern border.
The initiative was first revealed two weeks ago during a strategic discussion over the future of the Middle East peace process that was held as part of the ministry's evaluation of regional developments.
The evaluation is the first of its kind, and was initiated by ministry director-general Aharon Abramovich, and later supported by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Livni's close advisers and senior ministry officials participated in the discussion. Given the officials' close relationship with Livni, the evaluation's recommendations are likely to turn into official policy should she succeed in forming a government.
Eran Etzion, the head of the Foreign Ministry's political planning section, said a full peace agreement with Lebanon can only come in the wake of a similar deal with Syria. Still, he said, Israel can try to advance on a separate political track with Lebanon, the end result of which could be a long-term non-belligerence pact.
The agreement would be signed by both governments, and its focus would be a reciprocal agreement on the route of the border between the two countries. The deal would include a solution to the dispute over the Shaba Farms border area and the divided village of Ghajar, as well as a number of small border adjustments demanded by Lebanon.
The recommendation would provide for a coordination apparatus between the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese army, as well as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) over border patrols and other monitoring activities.
Israel is expected to ask Lebanon to significantly reduce Hezbollah's weapons stores, and to extend the Lebanese army's authority across the entire country, with a special emphasis on the area south of the Litani River, which is the closest area to Israel. In return, an agreement would have to be reached over Israeli overflights in Lebanese airspace.
The discussion also dealt with the Syrian and Palestinian diplomatic tracks, and officials present argued over which track should receive first priority.
Those in favor of dealing with Syria first agreed that the only tenable option on that track would involve negotiations over a final-status agreement with an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Supporters of this strategy said an agreement with Syria would be easier to reach than with the Palestinians, the chances for its success are greater and the strategic dividend Israel would receive is bigger. They also said such a deal would greatly change the balance of power in the region by removing the threat posed to Israel by the Syrian army, placing distance between Damascus and Iran and possibly engendering a deal with Lebanon.
Supporters of the "Palestinians first" strategy argued, however, that without solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem will be unable to advance peace talks with even a single moderate Arab state.
One official subscribing to this view said, "Every Arab person we talk to says the central issue that bothers him, and that they give priority to over everything else, is the Palestinian issue."