Saturday, July 15, 2006

Chibli Mallat on the Lebanese/Israeli crisis (Lebanon Daily Star)

The author of this intelligent and sensible piece is the Lebanese lawyer, political analyst, and human-rights activist Chibli Mallat. The title given to his piece, "Nasrallah has dismissed international law", is misleading--not because it's inaccurate per se, but because it captures only one part of Mallat's argument. Actually, he has harsh judgments and plausibly constructive proposals for the whole range of actors involved in the current crisis. I don't agree with Mallat in every detail, but I do think that both his analysis and his overall package of proposals point generally in the right direction. These proposals, alas, will almost certainly have no practical influence ... but they're worth considering nevertheless.

--Jeff Weintraub
Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Friday, July 14, 2006

Nasrallah has dismissed international law
By Chibli Mallat

Chibli Mallat, a law professor at St. Joseph University, has campaigned for the Lebanese presidency. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

The worst, inevitable scenario has taken place. The domestic deadlock in Lebanon has now taken on an international dimension as a result of the Cedar Revolution's failing to produce a president who would have started a new dynamic of peace in Lebanon, and by extension in the region.

If that was the inevitable part, the worst one comes from the terms chosen by Hizbullah's leadership Wednesday after its forces crossed the Israeli-Lebanese border to kidnap two Israeli soldiers. In his news conference, the party's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, dismissed international law. Such dismissal will come to haunt us all, including Hizbullah's top cadres, because respect for international law is the one differentiating characteristic that Lebanon, as a small country, has managed to retain in a lawless region. For years it stuck to the legitimacy of United Nations Security Council Resolution 425, and today it seeks to establish a mixed Lebanese-international tribunal to put on trial those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

As defined by the Security Council, one consequence was particularly grave in the way Hizbullah crossed the Lebanese-Israeli border. As it did with Hamas, whose leadership it has callously decapitated in Palestinian areas during the past three years, Israel will want to go after Lebanese leaders, and neither Europe nor the US will stand in the way of such a vengeful path as the violence spins out of control.

In such times of hardship, leadership is needed. That leadership can only come from the Lebanese government forcing an immediate Security Council resolution that meets the challenges raised by Wednesday's grave developments. The government must seek to disengage Lebanon from the regional trauma shaped by violence and retaliation, and persuade the Security Council to find the needed common ground to prevent any escalation into full-fledged war, occupation, and more assassinations.

Such a resolution should carry three operative clauses. The first would ensure the release of the two Israeli soldiers, to be followed by negotiations through the UN secretary general on all outstanding issues between Lebanon and Israel, including the release of Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails. Should the release of the two Israelis not take place, then a third clause would kick in where the Security Council can look into collective measures to force compliance. This condition should be written into the resolution.

Until the passage of such a resolution, the Bush administration must impress on Israel the need to refrain from embarking on violence that forces radicalization and results in further misery for all, especially civilians.

The Lebanese, for their part, must make sure that constitutional means are followed when it comes to taking decisions on such grave matters as war and peace. Hizbullah cannot go it alone and expect the government and the country as a whole to accept the sacrifices that all are suffering. The closure of Rafik Hariri Airport is a harbinger of far greater tragedies to come.

On the basis of what the government and Hizbullah declared on Wednesday, such a resolution is still possible. The Lebanese must play their part with courage and speak openly to the Hizbullah leadership. Nasrallah's warning about the need for the country to almost blindly support his party's policies was unwarranted. Most Lebanese have provided, and continue to provide, national legitimacy to Hizbullah, without which it would turn into an absolute pariah internationally.

Hizbullah also must know that its unilateral steps carrying Lebanon into open violation of international law will split the country and revive renewed collaboration with Israel in some sections of the population outraged by such unilateralism and bearing a long-standing grudge against the party. Moderates among us will be unable to prevent this divisiveness from developing into an unbridgeable gulf within the nation.

The Israeli government must also understand that the cycle of violence will impose a logic of its own, whose consequences are unpredictable - except for more casualties and domestic and regional polarization. That is why the US and France must firmly hold back Israeli escalation until the Security Council meets and proposes a workable alternative.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has blamed the Lebanese government for Wednesday's actions. He is wrong because he knows the government is split, that most ministers do not condone Hizbullah's escalations and have said so, and that the Syrian and Iranian leaderships have been stoking the flames in Lebanon to deflect domestic pressures. Punishing Lebanon as a whole does not make sense, let alone targeting defenseless civilians and the nation's infrastructure.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora must go to New York as soon as he can in order to find a solution. Let us rally behind the terms of a UN resolution that solves the crisis. Otherwise, Lebanon will be torn asunder.