BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Taking the Diplomatic Offensive

In military affairs, Israel has always succeeded when it takes the offensive.  It is time for Israel to take the offensive diplomatically. According to reports in the media, Israel is about to pull-out of the northern part of Ghajar and UNIFIL will police the town. Handing the town over to the UN is a poor choice when there is a much better option available. Israel should make an offer – very publicly – to cede southern Ghajar in exchange for Lebanon dropping its claims to Shebaa Farms.

The citizens of Ghajar will be given a choice: become Lebanese citizens or remain Israeli citizens. Those choosing to become Lebanese, would exchange their Israeli identity cards for Lebanese-issued ones. Those choosing to remain Israeli citizens would be offered a relocation package similar to those received by settlers in Gaza. A “national service” component could be added for the hard work of building a new community.

There are several arguments against taking this diplomatic initiative. Detractors will point out that Iran and Syria are likely to do everything in their power to prevent such a deal from ever occurring, let alone being given a serious hearing. Resolving the Ghajar / Shebaa Farms issue would eliminate all of Hezbollah’s claims as “protector of Lebanon.” Weaken Hezbollah weakens Iran and Syria. And weakening Iran and Syria further weakens Hezbollah.

However, both the current regime in Teheran and its Hizbullah proxies are in a certain degree of disarray due to elections in both countries. Have the internal protests and power-struggles weakened the regime? Absolutely not. Have the caused it to focus its attention inward? Absolutely, yes. Furthermore, with the Obama administration pressing Teheran to enter into negotiations over its nuclear program, now would be the wrong time for Ahmadinejad to stir-up trouble in Lebanon.

Syria is engaged in a slow, step-by-step process of re-engagement with the West. There has been a constant stream of European and American diplomats in and out of Damascus. The message to Assad has been clear: Iran or us. His country is impoverished and isolated from other Arab states. Allowing Lebanon to negotiate with Israel would, on the one hand, further isolate his regime. On the other hand, Assad would likely claim – and Washington would like deliver – substantial diplomatic, economic and political benefits if Syria were to take a benign role.

Detractors will also say that no Arab government will be willing to cede any land to Israel, period. They might be right. If they are, wouldn’t it be to Israel’s advantage to point this out now, over a square miles of valueless real estate, rather than get embroiled with the Palestinians? A Lebanese refusal would put those exerting pressure on Israel to make compromises elsewhere into an embarrassing position.

A third argument against doing this is the potential of the residents of Ghajar voting en masse to become Lebanese citizens. Polling in Israel over the last five years has shown an increasing number of Arab citizens do not want to live with Jews (and vice versa). This would certainly be a black eye for Israel, at a time when it is least needed. On the other hand, what if they decided to stay? Wouldn’t this be an equal or greater black eye for Arab nationalists and Islamists?

It is a long shot. However, it has enormous potential and very little downside risk. Obtaining a Lebanese concession on the Shebaa Farms area, aka, Har Dov, gives Israel a key route into the Golan and will bolster Israel’s bargaining position vis-à-vis Syria. Finally, the process of could conceivably serve as a template for the re-alignment of borders in the West Bank / Judea & Samaria. It’s time for Israel to take the diplomatic offensive!

August 7, 2009 - Posted by | Israel, Middle East | , , ,

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