A small team of United Nations peacekeepers and Lebanese Army
officers puffs toward a sweltering summit along Lebanon's frontier
with Israel and Syria.
Instead of toting weapons and flak jackets - the standard here
during more than two decades of Israeli occupation - these soldiers
are carrying maps, compasses, laptop computers, and hand-held
satellite positioning units.
Though UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week declared that
Israel has completely pulled out of Lebanon - a view supported by
the Security Council - Lebanese complaints of a string of continuing
Israeli violations complicated the UN chief's Mideast trip this
For Mr. Annan it was a hard lesson in the power of cartography,
in a region where every line drawn in the sand carries the freight
of centuries of history and conflict. To be sure, borderlines
anywhere in the world can be, and often are, flashpoints.
And in the Mideast, where the political dialogue is often
suffused with strategic opacity, the precision of any exact
demarcation is anathema.
Still, as the Arab-Israeli conflict matures toward a possible
resolution of half a century of conflict, the maps of would-be
peacemakers across the region are taking on significance like never
"Borders are important, because every inch is the difference
between occupied or liberated land," says Brig. Gen. Amin Hoteit of
the Lebanese Army, as he squints through binoculars at the northern
Israel landscape. "There is an important human freedom at stake,
when this land has cost so much in blood," General Hoteit says.
In the end, Mr. Annan's visit this week helped defuse a crisis:
Israel promised it would resolve what one Western official called
"hanky-panky" on the border, referring to encroachments by Israel.
Violations may appear small to outsiders - they include an
Israeli Army tent pitched just inside Lebanese territory, a truck
that has been moved back and forth across the line, and a couple of
lookout posts 50 to 100 yards on the wrong side of the line. But the
Lebanese are taking assiduous care in dealing with them.
"Establishing borders in the Middle East means bringing peace to
these countries," says Vladamir Bessarabov, a Russian cartographer
with UN. "Until very recently, Israel did not have any borders here,
and this part of the Lebanon-Syria border was never fully defined."
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978, and then established a nine-mile
deep occupation zone in southern Lebanon in a bid to stop cross-
border attacks. In recent years, increasing casualties led Israeli
public opinion to favor a pullout, which Prime Minister Ehud Barak
carried out abruptly on May 24 as Israel's allied Lebanese militia
There are no shortage of lines that crisscross the Middle East,
like a tangled web that for decades has supported self-serving
definitions of unpalatable realities. There are "green lines,"
armistice, cease-fire, and "operational" lines, and borders that
date to the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
Many lines have been fluid, changing in 1948, 1967, 1973, 1978,
1979, 1982 and during the 1990s as the Jewish state conquered, lost,
or returned Arab territory for peace. From Libya to Iran, numerous
political "red lines" exist.
And now another line has been created by the UN to verify the
Israeli withdrawal here, though it doesn't exactly match the 1923
border that Israel, Lebanon, and the UN all recognize will be the
basis for the final boundary.
UN officials say they are not in the business of demarcating any
final border. That is the responsibility of the parties to come with
an accord, and survey teams will do it. But helping both the
Lebanese and Israelis resolve military issues now is their mandate. …