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Not if the U.S. prods Israel to begin negotiating fairly with Palestine

Not if the U.S. prods Israel to begin negotiating fairly with Palestine

Posted: February 11, 2011 - 9:50am

The ascendance of Hezbollah in Lebanon should not doom the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Those negotiations, to be sure, are already on life support. A cynic might say there is nothing that could reduce further the prospects of a successful Israel-Palestine peace.

Should Israel be worried that Hezbollah might try to use the territory of Palestine to attack Israel? Israel’s major aim in getting an Israel-Palestine peace is to gain acceptance from the Arab world of Israel’s status as a state.

If Israel comes to a fair accommodation with Palestine, Hezbollah would have less support for a posture of hostility to Israel and less likely to attack Israel even from Lebanon’s territory.

When Hezbollah first emerged, its major complaint was Israel’s occupation of territory in southern Lebanon. That occupation began in 1982 and ran until 2000, despite a call by the U.N. Security Council that it keep out of Lebanon.

The Lebanese government did little to get Israel out. Hezbollah was formed during that time, based in Lebanon’s Shia population, which predominates in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah fought against Israel’s occupation and owes its continuing popularity to its role in forcing Israel to withdraw in 2000. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Israel brought Hezbollah upon itself.

In the present political jockeying, Hezbollah is not forcing itself or its philosophy on Lebanon. Hezbollah’s choice for prime minister is a man acceptable to a broad range of Lebanon’s population. Najib Mikati is a Sunni, not a Shia. That much is required under Lebanon’s constitutional order, which calls for the prime minister to be Sunni.

Mikati has served previously as prime minister. He is a telecom billionaire who promises to keep Lebanon on good terms with the West.

Hezbollah is coming to power through political means under the constitutional structure that exists in Lebanon. Israel will have to deal with whatever governments are in place in the Arab states.

On the Israeli side, the commitment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiations is doubtful. Israel is sufficiently strong militarily that it may figure it can survive even without acceptance by the Arab world.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu may point to the government change in Lebanon as a reason to avoid negotiating.

Those negotiations are currently dead in the water, in part because Israel continues to expand its settlements in the very territory that is the subject of negotiation.

The United States is doing nothing to persuade Israel to stop the settlement construction. When protests broke out recently in Egypt, the presidential press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked whether the United States was considering cutting aid to Egypt to get it to accede to protesters’ demands.

Gibbs averred that it was.

Israel gets more American aid than Egypt. But with Israel, the Obama administration has not suggested cutting aid to persuade Israel to stop settlement construction, despite a very public war of words over the issue.

Our lack of any strategy to restart the negotiations came out in a painfully clear way in documents recently made public by the Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera. They show Palestine officials pleading with U.S. officials to be more aggressive in regard to Israel’s settlement construction.

Were Israel to come to terms with Palestine on the basis of rights and obligations as internationally recognized — a reasonable accommodation on borders, on Jerusalem, and on repatriation of Palestine refugees — Israel would diminish the hostility it faces in the Arab world. Israel would have less to worry about from Hezbollah.

• Quigley is a law professor at Ohio State University.

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