Convergence and the Lebanon Model
Ha’aretz, June 20, 2006
Faced with American and European resistance to the idea that Israel can unilaterally determine its permanent border with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government is telling everyone a bit of what it thinks they want to hear. Statements are pouring forth—that the government prefers to negotiate with the Palestinians, that unilateral actions are a last resort, that Olmert will meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, that convergence is just a first step within the road map, and so forth.
If the prime minister were seriously interested in final-status negotiations with the PLO, there is a real chance that an agreement could be reached. But since Olmert has not abandoned his real objective—to resolve the territorial dimension of the conflict without negotiations—it is unfortunate that he is floundering in pursuing even this “second-best” objective.
In looking for a way to regain policy momentum, Olmert might reflect on the one precedent in which the international community supported Israel in such an effort: Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon.
After Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425, calling on Israel to withdraw from “all Lebanese territory.” In May 2000, under prime minister Ehud Barak, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon. This was done without any agreement with the Lebanese government as to what the border line was, and Lebanon maintained that Israel did not carry out a full withdrawal. Lebanese complaints notwithstanding, not only did the United States recognize this as the end of the occupation, so did most of the international community.
What made this possible was the involvement of the United Nations. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that Israel met the requirements of UNSC Resolution 425, and the Security Council, in turn, endorsed the secretary general’s conclusion that the resolution had been fulfilled.
With respect to Israel and the West Bank, while there is no prior international border, the analogous line is the “Green Line,” the 1949 armistice line that remained in place until the 1967 war. UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war.
However, Resolution 242, unlike Resolution 425, was deliberately vague about whether Israel is required to withdraw from all of the territory occupied or just from some of it. The Palestinian position has been that Israel should return to the Green Line, while all Israeli governments, as well as the United States, have rejected that interpretation.
With this in mind, Olmert could seek, and likely obtain, American agreement to accept a unilateral Israeli withdrawal as establishing a permanent boundary, provided that it is to a line recognized by the UN Security Council as fulfilling the withdrawal provisions of Resolution 242. Moreover, Olmert could also gain an American commitment to work with the Israeli government to win Security Council support for the line that Israel would propose, one that would allow Israel to annex limited areas along the Green Line to accommodate certain Israeli settlements.
Were Israel and the United States to go down this path, the Security Council would become the venue for giving precision to what it takes to resolve the territorial dimension of the conflict. The issue of direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas would have been circumvented, a prospect that would satisfy both parties.
Instead, the PLO, which already has formal United Nations status, would represent the Palestinian cause. And while the United States would expectedly tilt toward the Israeli position in determining a permanent line, greater consideration of the Palestinian position would be forthcoming from the other permanent members of the Security Council.
An outline of what the council would resolve can be predicted. Roughly, it would require:
- that Israel withdraw from a contiguous area that encompasses at least 94 percent of the West Bank (the Clinton minimum).
- that Israel provide the Palestinians with territorial swaps to compensate for areas it annexes.
- that the withdrawal provide the Palestinians with a genuine border with Jordan.
- that Israel agree to future negotiations on Jerusalem and refugees.
- that Israel agree not to undertake any construction that prejudices a future solution for Jerusalem.
The Security Council would determine the specifics required before affirming that, aside from Jerusalem, the withdrawal provisions of Resolution 242 had been fulfilled.
If Olmert were to undertake such a withdrawal, there is no doubt that a Palestinian state would be proclaimed in both Gaza and the West Bank. This would lead to new Palestinian elections, and if Hamas is returned to power, it would likely pursue its idea of a 30-year hudna (cease-fire). This would provide stability without recognition, as is the case on the Israeli-Syrian border. Alternatively, if Fatah or some new Palestinian version of Kadima came to power, it would have a mandate for pursuing end-of-conflict negotiations with Israel on a state-to-state basis.