UN tells Israel: Place Shaba Farms in hands of UNIFIL
The United Nations has transmitted messages to Israel in recent weeks that the organization's mapping experts have determined that the controversial Shaba Farms on Mount Dov near the Lebanese border, now controlled by Israel, is Lebanese territory. The UN, which has communicated to Israel that the disposition of the Shaba Farms should be dealt with as soon as possible, has proposed to senior government officials that Israel withdraw from the area and that it be considered international territory to be controlled by UNIFIL.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert oppose the idea. The size of, and sovereignty over, the Shaba Farms has been a matter of controversy due to the way the border between Syria and Lebanon was marked during the French Mandate between the two world wars. When the UN marked the border between Israel and Lebanon after Israel's withdrawal in May 2000, the Shaba Farms were said to be part of Syrian territory, and that Israel therefore did not need to withdraw from it in the absence of an agreement with the Syrians. Lebanon did not accept the line of demarcation, and has since claimed that the Shaba Farms are in its territory. Hezbollah took advantage of the controversy to justify attacks on Israeli forces in the area.
Government officials in Jerusalem said the UN cartographer handling the matter in recent months has determined that the area is indeed Lebanese. The officials added that Syria and Lebanon also agree that the area is Lebanese. Therefore, the UN has said there is no reason for Israel not to relinquish control over the area.
Government officials are treating the matter with kid gloves out of concern that a public statement by the UN could lead to renewed conflict in the North.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon apparently transmitted the UN's conclusions in the meeting between himself and Olmert in New York last month, part of which was private. Another message apparently came through the UN's special coordinator for the Middle East, Michael Williams, in a meeting with Livni a few weeks ago.
France and the United States are also ratcheting up their pressure on Israel, in the belief that a withdrawal from the Shaba Farms will strengthen the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will be coming to the region next week, pressed Olmert during the Second Lebanon War to withdraw from Shaba to bolster Siniora. Olmert refused, saying the move would be viewed by Hezbollah as a victory. Israel and the UN discussed Shaba ahead of the release two weeks ago of the periodic report on the implementation of Resolution 1701. The UN wanted to include a clause stating that Shaba was Lebanese and urging a solution. This would have been a departure from 1701, which states that the fate of the farms is to be resolved in the determination of the border between Lebanon and Syria.
On Livni's instructions, senior Foreign Ministry officials pressured UN officials to remove the clause.