|More Vision with less UN Force in Lebanon
There maybe a silver lining in the delay by the United
Nations in handling Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. Developments
on the ground may prove that more could be done by parties in
the region with less by the United Nations.
Despite the rhetoric, consider the facts. In an emotionally charged
politically volatile fully armed neighborhood, not a single person
was killed on any side throughout a surprise operation. Abandoned
armaments originally photographed in festive takeover scenes were
quietly retrieved by the Lebanese army. Soldiers of the pro-Israeli
"South Lebanon Army" - were discreetly taken into government custody,
awaiting regular judicial process. Despite a few provocative or
"provocateurs" incidents, along the border fence Israeli soldiers
seemed to banter with their curious onlookers. All sides exercised
utmost restraint. Lebanese army checkposts were firmly set at
the entrance of the vulnerable region to allow entry only for
those living there. . Lebanese customs and police officials set
up an office in Marjeyoun, former command capital of the former
security zone and all other areas of the South.
Instead of the headlines, read the small print. Major General
Gaby Ashkenazi of Israeli North Command pondered on meeting his
adversaries: " I saw these people from four to five meters away.
I looked at him, he looked at me. I am holding my weapon, and
nothing happened. If he fired I would have fired. He didn't fire.
And that's the reality we have to adjust to." On the other side,
a young Lebanese broadcaster seeing through his country's border
for the first time exclaimed: "look. There are people - I mean
people - walking there. Israelis. It's really amazing."
In the midst of political maneuvering, listen closely to some
of the key players. Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud visited border
villages to welcome them back into "national unity". Meeting in
church he reassured bewildered inhabitants that to him Rumaish,
a village in the enclave was as dear as his hometown Baabdat.
They knew that he meant it. Across the border, seeking a "vision
of a common future", Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was addressing
him through a speech to the Knesset: "Israel is not an enemy of
Lebanonů let us talk peace." Similarly, Syria's Foreign Minister
Faruk Al-Sharaa was repeating that "Syria is against escalation".
And Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was in the former pro-Israeli stronghold
of Bint Jbeil, where he could almost be heard without microphones,
talking about the "cultured response of the resistance" and its
political role in rebuilding a unified society. His Hizbollah
party will participate in the Parliamentary elections scheduled
for later this summer.
Clearly, Israel's withdrawal injected a new catalyst in the whole
region. The passing away of Syrian President Hafez Assad, the
steadfast regional leader for three decades imposes a period of
evaluation (hopefully informed) while absorbing the initial political
tremor. The nature and extent of relations between states could
be explored and tested. There will always be time to read through
political tealeaves and adapt accordingly. However, it will be
generally accurate to assume that the current strategy of all
parties in the Middle East tends towards peace. That could not
be merely achieved by governments alone. Security could be imposed
by governments. Any force however effective could occasionally
prevent antagonists from getting at each other's throat. But peace
is a growing habit with its growing pains. The price of peace
is only paid by those who recognize its value.
Therein lies the nature of a new UN role. Despite a recent record
of peacekeeping failures, the UN until the late eighties had won
two Nobel prizes for Peace. There is now a potentially positive
role for the UN in Lebanon. But it does not need to be fettered
to one pre-ordained script. Harassed military peacekeeping is
not the only option of soldiering for peace. The UN Charter lists
a combination of valuable tools to promote peace and security.
Among countries, like with people, the key to a perceived victory
is knowing when to win; in perceived defeat it is knowing what
not to lose. In addition to its other functions, the UN could
provide a ladder to climb down from or a fig leaf to cover a political
miscalculation. And, yes, it is always a convenient scapegoat.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has performed a popular
job although it was not enabled to complete its full mandate for
22 years. Now that it may be achieved, there is talk of UNIFIL
II with increased troops - and possibly an "amended" mandate,
"with teeth". The question of their purpose will remain hanging.
If it is to be a deterrent force in a perceived hostile environment,
it will be tragically outmaneuvered - a punching bag sandwiched
between forces more familiar with the terrain. France, the former
colonial power, is being urged to lead the force. But the designated
"matron saint" knows better than to jump into an empty pool. As
no French politician could discuss Lebanon rationally, and vice-versa,
a hurried oversized military participation may easily evolve into
an emotional entanglement involving national politics of both
countries. That is why the French are demanding specific 'peaceful
guarantees'. In practical terms, that would mean a conducive atmosphere
with the participation of Lebanon and Syria as well as Israel.
But if peace is "guaranteed" by the governments of the region,
why would an expanded UNIFIL II be needed? It will be more difficult
to assemble more expensive to operate and almost impossible to
dismantle graciously. With a new dynamic in the field, why focus
on what could be more of a futile barrier rather than a useful
buffer. Why not start with something more ambitious yet less cumbersome.
Why not try first a UNIFIL Lite or, better, a U.N. Plus? It would
be more feasible, less costly and more effective. While representing
the international will, its main task would be briefly to understand
the realities of its environment, accentuate the positive elements,
avert the negative and promote a sustainable investment in peace.
A comprehensive vision of a flexible UN presence with a creative
political approach, trimmed military oversight and liaison could
be buttressed by a perspective for human development. To illustrate,
a contentious point of delay is an insistence by certain influential
countries (and some UN officials) that a substantive contingent
of Lebanese army, not police, be sent to the South before further
Part of the misunderstanding may relate to differing perceptions
of security systems. Between the army and police, the Lebanese
system has developed a well equipped paramilitary Internal Security
Forces. They were initially drawn along the lines of the French
gendarmerie entrusted with maintaining order, particularly in
the countryside. Some of its units have already moved southward
to ensure internal security. A credible blend of these forces
and some selective army units could be deployed as required. The
purpose according to the Security Council resolution will be to
ensure the stabilizing presence of "the Lebanese authority" in
the South. It is up to the Lebanese government to decide how best
to do so - with a little help from its friends. To illustrate
further, when UNIFIL was established in 1978, half a million Southern
Lebanese who had fled returned to rebuild their villages following
a comprehensive UN educational, media, health and social campaign
pegged to a stable atmosphere of peaceful security. The presence
of all UN system offices in one building in Beirut would facilitate
a unified approach and quick action. The UN Economic and Social
Commission for Western Asia could gear its intellectual studies
into more urgent field cases. Ironically, the UN may need Lebanon
now as much as that country may need the UN. It used to be said
that Lebanon's strength was in its weakness.
That was a glib excuse. Lebanon's strength is in its unity. Through
unity, the independence of 1945 was achieved. Without it, the
country plunged into civil war. With persistent determination
and personal example, newly elected President Emile Lahoud, who
had rebuilt a cohesive army, inspired that popular unity again
and achieved it. Working closely and responsibly with Syria helped
consolidate that unity. Noticeably he managed to limit the overflow
of Lebanese politicians visiting Damascus almost daily seeking
favored interference on their personal behalf. . In fact, Lebanon
is riding on a wave of Arab admiration and national euphoria.
On the other hand, the UN is now fragmented in resources, approach
and command. Yet the UN is the main source of international legitimacy
and has a special place in everyone's heart. After a string of
failures it needs a success. If handled well, as everyone hopes,
Lebanon could be it. Since the signature of the Charter in San
Francisco, the UN and Lebanon grew together, partners in every
aspect of life. From the Israel Lebanese Mixed Armistice Commission,
under the UN Truce Supervision Organization for which Dr. Ralphe
Bunche received the Nobel Prize for Peace, to the Declaration
of Human Rights which a Lebanese drafted as Rapporteur, to the
pivotal role of Beirut - based UN agencies to UNIFIL, the Lebanese
- half of whom lead international lives would require very little
briefing on a new UN venture. A relevant practical and focused
operation could help Lebanon and refresh the Middle East peace
process. It could also display the UN's recently lost capacity
for timely action. Otherwise, another catastrophe could be inflicted
on an undeserving region.
Mr. Samir Sanbar, a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General
for Public Information is a citizen of Lebanon.