The Seven-Point Program / Lebanese PM Siniora Facing Two-pronged Task

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora may get a Security Council resolution that will halt the fighting, but it will also kick off an internal war between himself and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Officially, Nasrallah has accepted Siniora's seven-point program; in practice, however, several clauses remain in dispute.

The two have agreed that the Lebanese Army will deploy south of the Litani River, and that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will assist it, rather than a special international force. What remains unclear is what will become of Hezbollah's armed forces in South Lebanon once this happens, and how can they be prevented from returning to the Israeli border.

Siniora has no convincing answer to this question. Everyone realizes that the Lebanese Army is neither capable of nor interested in confronting Hezbollah, and Siniora himself has no interest in such a confrontation at this time. And if UNIFIL's mandate remains unchanged - currently, its job is confined to monitoring and reporting truce violations - a confrontation with Hezbollah seems even more unlikely.

Therefore, Siniora faces a two-pronged task: He must persuade Hezbollah to shelve its weapons and become a strictly political entity; and he must convince the international community, and Israel in particular, that Lebanon's political structure is strong enough to keep Nasrallah from attacking again without the government's permission.

Both tasks will stretch Siniora's negotiating talents to the limit. These talents are considerable - as evidenced by his success in reopening the debate on the Security Council resolution, after an American-French deal had seemed to make its passage a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, he is facing an organization that will continue to hold a military veto over his decisions. This is why he needs the deal to include an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms. Such a deal would allow him to present both Hezbollah and the Lebanese public with a real achievement.

In exchange, he is offering a verbal promise to disarm Hezbollah at some unspecified later date. This is where the disagreement with Hezbollah comes in: Nasrallah is demanding an unconditional Israeli withdrawal, and he is willing to discuss disarmament only as part of a Lebanese national dialogue, and not in response to a UN resolution.

The latter problem could be solved by having the Siniora government present a practical plan, including timetables, for disarming Hezbollah that the UN resolution would simply acknowledge. The Shaba issue is thornier, since the UN recognizes this territory as Syrian, so Syria would have to formally cede it before it could be transferred to Lebanon.

However, Israel could neutralize this problem by turning the area over to whatever international force is assigned to assist the Lebanese Army.