As the conflict in Lebanon waged for some four weeks the calls for the US to institute some immediate cease-fire were very loud and well-intentioned; these were met a cautionary response from Washington DC that stressed the importance of developing an agreement that would provide for a “sustainable peace,” or one in which some months, weeks, perhaps days later fighting would not erupt anew. The Administration took some flak for this posture from many quarters, but remained wary nonetheless of a cease-fire that would soon fall apart after implementation. At last, over last weekend, the US and France collaborated to develop a UN resolution for a cease-fire. A force of some 30,000 peacekeepers comprised of 15,000 UN personel and a like number of Lebanese troops would occupy the south of Lebanon as Israeli forces withdrew. Most importantly, Hizballah would be disarmed. This was the key to allaying Israeli fears of a similar incursion to the one that precipitated the war, and to promoting the sovreignty of the Lebanese government.
Initially, Hizballah promised to comply, and Israeli troops began to slowly withdraw. The peace was tenuous, but more and more were optimistic as each hour passed without major incident. But then things began to get dicey.
As of today, no concrete plans have been set for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force. It will be at least a week until the first 3500 arrive, but that even is still uncertain. France initially appeared eager to lead the peacekeeping efforts, but is quibbling over what powers it will be given in that capacity, namely vis-a-vis disarmament of Hizballah. Worse still, France this afternoon announced that its initial contribution to the force will be only 200 troops, far short of the numbers many expected. On the other hand, Lebanon for one is upholding its end of the bargain, beginning it troop deployment in the south. However, a point of concern is this force’s vow to not engage in disarmament, or any conflict with Hizballah.
Hizballah itself has stepped up to further provide cause for concern. It has promised to provide housing for all displaced Lebanese, and to take the lead in reconstructing Lebanon in general. This is yet another piece of brilliant PR maneuvering by Hizballah, and serves to strengthen the group, contrary to the weakening of it as desired by the UN resolution. And furthermore, Hizballah today said today that now is “not the time to talk about disarmament.”
These, undeniably, are not the ingredients for a sustainable peace in theh region. One would have expected that the details of the makeup and timeline for action for the UN peacekeeping force would have been outlined prior to the approval of the cease-fire. Fortunately, the poor Lebanese and Israeli civilians are enjoying a respite from daily bombings. But the current situation appears more of a time bomb than the foundation for long-term peace. One gets the feeling that the UN resolution was rushed, in a sort of shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach. This cease-fire cannot be said to be healthy, even in its very young age. It stands the risk of collapse at the feet of an increasingly impertinent UN that is itself in poor health. In that case, the losers are none other than the Lebanese and Israeli citizens that this hastily clapped-together cease-fire was meant to aid. From a diplomatic standpoint, the US could have hardly waited much longer to put together a cease-fire; but in rushing things it failed to achieve a sustainable one. Perhaps none is attainable. But the prospects for peace based on the current resolution look grim indeed.