ANY moves towards peace in the Middle East are complex and nowhere is this more the case than in the complicated situation involving Lebanon and Israel for a third party is always involved namely Syria. These complex factors must be understood by any other country, specially the United States, who became involved in the peacemaking process.
Even before Israel unilaterally ended its occupation of south Lebanon and withdrew its forces in July 2000, it has been willing to reach a peace agreement with Lebanon. Such a course, however, was not possible for the Lebanese have not been entirely the masters of their destiny. Circumstances since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war have repeatedly shown the extent to which Lebanon is a casualty, albeit at times willingly, of regional events. These included the immediate consequences of the 1967 war that resulted in Israeli occupation of Arab lands; the rise in the number of Palestinian refugees following their 1970 expulsion from Jordan; the 'state within a state' that Palestinians managed to create after Lebanon became the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian resistance; the eruption of civil war in Lebanon in 1974; the Taif Agreement of 1987 that restructured the Lebanese political system and legitimized the presence of Syrian forces in the country; Israeli occupation of parts of Lebanon and the establishment of a 'security zone' administered by the pro-Israeli South Lebanese Army (SLA); and last, but not least, the Madrid Peace Conference, that paved the way for the peace process between Israel, the Palestinians, and its neighbouring Arab countries.
These defining events in Lebanon's modern history have reshaped the nation's polity and political agenda. They have cast Lebanon closer to Arab politics and convinced many Lebanese that, in dealing with Israel, their interests are better served by closely cooperating and coordinating with Syria. This is because Lebanon, despite the Israeli withdrawal, continues to claim that parts of its territory remaitn under Israeli occupation, its sovereignty over water rights in South Lebanon are being threatened by Israel, and thousands of Palestinian refugees remain in Lebanon with international hints that they should be settled there permanently as part of an overall Middle East peace deal. I would argue that this is the most advantageous strategic posture for Lebanon even if the country is free to deal with Israel independently of Syria.
Lebanon's Perplexing Stance
The official Lebanese stance toward peace with Israel has been somewhat puzzling to the general observer. The Lebanese have repeatedly rejected the Israeli proposal for the 'Lebanon-first' offer -- to settle the Lebanese-Israeli dispute apart from any linkage to Syrian-Israeli issues. Lebanon has insisted that its track is linked to the Syrian track, and peace with Israel means that Israel has also made peace with Syria. Furthermore, Lebanon has demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese territories, but when Prime Minister Barak decided to withdraw Israeli forces from South Lebanon, the Lebanese warned that withdrawal without an agreement is a trick designed to split the Lebanese and Syrian tracks.
Lebanese President Lahhoud complained that the proposed unilateral withdrawal without 'a comprehensive and just peace' leaves Lebanon with the problem of Palestinian refugees unresolved. This issue and the dispute over the identity of the She'ba farms that remain under Israeli occupation are the reasons why Lebanon has yet to deploy its army in South Lebanon as Israel and the United States have been demanding since July 2000. Keeping the border region between Israel and Lebanon volatile also serves Syria's interests.
Lebanon's perplexing position stems from the fact that it regarded the termination of Israeli occupation as non-negotiable under the terms of UN Security Council …