As Full of Pro-Israeli Holes as Swiss Cheese
Inside 1701: What the UN Security Council’s Ceasefire Resolution Actually Says
By VIRGINIA TILLEY
What is really portended by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which set the terms for the present ceasefire in Lebanon? The very fact that it was signed at all might be encouraging, but no one is sure what its actual impact will be and most are sceptical. For Israel, will it secure the outcome its leaders are (rather desperately) claiming they have gained by this dreadful war – i.e., ultimate disarmament of Hizbullah? For Lebanon and Hizbullah, will it secure Israel’s withdrawal? Either way, will it last?
More important than its precise provisions are facts on the ground. On one side, Hizbullah is "victorious" in defeating Israel’s military ambitions, but much of Lebanon itself is in ruins; peace for a traumatized population is a matter of urgency. On the other side, the Israeli military is chastened and Jewish Israel is shocked; more fruitless loss of soldiers’ lives has become political anathema. These factors may cause the guns to stay silent where the resolution itself could not.
But a close look at Resolution 1701 is still important because it says a great deal about the politics of the moment. In practice, any Security Council (SC) resolution is only as effective in attaining its goals as the collective political will and capacity of its veto-wielding members allow it to be. Some resolutions reflect more consensus than others. Many confront limitations of the SC to enforce them. Brooding divisions and chicanery within the SC can instill loopholes or debilitating contradictions.
Even short-and-sweet SC resolutions (a fraction the length of 1701) can be manipulated to create a crucial loophole. One notorious example is SC Resolution 242, passed just after the 1967 war when Israel had occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the entire Sinai Peninsula. Hard Israeli lobbying famously managed to extract the crucial "the" from the English translation of the otherwise blunt provision, "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from [the] territories occupied in the recent conflict." "Territories" in English is a general term, and could mean "some territories". "The territories" would mean "all territories". Israel’s maneuver on the definite article was therefore not sophistic: it has allowed Israel to claim, to this day, that it satisfied its obligations to comply with 242 by withdrawing from the Sinai (in 1981), while retaining control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights. (In all the other official UN languages, Resolution 242 still says "the territories", but apparently Israel is accountable to international law only in English.)
Brought under the microscope, what exactly does Resolution 1701 say? A line-by-line analysis reveals that it is as full of pro-Israeli holes as a Swiss cheese. It also has two significant pro-Lebanese holes. But the over-all weight of the resolution indicates that Israel holds the crucial card: whether and when to withdraw its forces from Lebanese territory. Close study of the resolution also explains why Israel rushed troops across the border in the days immediately preceding its passage. Knowing the text, having consulted with the Americans about its details, the Israeli government needed its troops in place to make it work. The loopholes also suggest that the present ceasefire, presently welcomed by two exhausted sides, may hold only a few weeks.
"The Security Council,
Recalling all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 425 (1978), 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006), 1680 (2006) and 1697 (2006), as well as the statements of its president on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statements of 18 June, 2000, of 19 October, 2004, of 4 May 2005, of 23 January 2006 and of 30 July 2006;"
Security Council resolutions always open with reference to relevant prior resolutions, to establish their juridical context. This one establishes Resolution 1701 within the legal history of prior resolutions on Lebanon. It does not place the conflict in larger regional context, however, which includes Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Israeli violence in enforcing that occupation is certainly intertwined with Hizbullah’s ideology, popular legitimacy, and its ongoing militancy, as well as Lebanese government weakness. In the penultimate paragraph, the Resolution does cite the need for a comprehensive Middle East peace process based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
"Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hezbollah’s attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons;"
This paragraph offers the first of the Resolution’s two empirical falsehoods. The conflict has not "caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides." It caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries on one side and dozens on the other. Inscribing this false equation into the text might seem a casual twist of language, but it is an ominous footprint indicating the resolution’s direction: endorsing Israel’s fictional narrative of symmetrical suffering bodes ill for the agenda of later clauses. (It also does no service to historians of UN interventions, who doubtless will unthinkingly reproduce this falsehood for decades to come).
In similar vein, the paragraph traces the "cause" of the conflict to a Hizbullah action, described as an "attack on Israel", instead of Israel’s decision to respond to a minor border skirmish with a pre-planned and massive assault on Lebanon’s entire population and infrastructure. This interpretation openly reproduces the Israel-Washington-London axis of revisionist myths about how the conflict started. It also suggests that the Lebanese government and Hizbullah were willing to compromise on this language, probably on grounds that capitulating to Israel’s version of events would be compensated by later substantive clauses that counterbalance it. But, again, allowing the Security Council to inscribe empirical falsehoods and Israel’s version of events into international law is poor law and poor planning. (The second instance of error, in Paragraph 8, is even more worrisome.)
"Emphasizing the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasising the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers;
Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at urgently settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel;"
A prisoner exchange was the reason for Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers, the event cited by Israel as the casus belli. The question of prisoners is therefore hardly peripheral to this conflict. Yet the Resolution here inscribes a starkly asymmetrical standing to Israeli and Lebanese prisoners. Hizbullah’s capture of Israeli prisoners is inscribed as one of "the causes that have given rise to the current crisis". The Security Council itself will therefore "address urgently" the plight of the two "abducted" (captured) Israeli soldiers, by securing their "unconditional release". By contrast, Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, from previous incursions into Lebanon by Israel, are not admitted to be a causal factor. Their plight is only a matter of "sensitivity", whose urgent settlement by other actors (unnamed) will be "encouraged." This formula makes the Security Council itself responsible for the Israeli soldiers’ release, while leaving the release of Lebanese prisoners to present players – i.e., Israel.
"Welcoming the efforts of the Lebanese prime minister and the commitment of the government of Lebanon, in its seven-point plan, to extend its authority over its territory, through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon, welcoming also its commitment to a UN force that is supplemented and enhanced in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operation, and bearing in mind its request in this plan for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon;"
As Israel has insisted that the Lebanese government assume sole authority over Lebanese territory, this passage may seem friendly to Israel, eliminating Hizbullah’s military role and autonomy. Nevertheless, it provides the first loophole favoring Lebanon, as the Lebanese government now includes Hizbullah. "No authority other than that of the government of Lebanon" will not be a problem for Hizbullah if it is part of that government. (Indeed, the government could not have signed this resolution without consulting with Hizbullah and getting a general go-ahead.) The phrase, "no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon", will not be a problem for Hizbullah, either, because the government is likely to give that consent. Moreover, as Hizbullah members are already well diffused into the Lebanese army, friendly cooperation between Hizbullah and the army is already evident and can be coordinated under the authority of the central Lebanese government – which, again, includes Hizbullah.
Knowing all this, the central government itself does not face the unworkable challenge of confronting Hizbullah’s greater military and political force. The logistics of integration, however, are clearly difficult. Fusing Hizbullah’s military wing into the Lebanese army is especially delicate, as Hizbullah has jealously guarded its military secrets even from the communities adjacent to its installations. Fusion might therefore have to be managed by reconstituting Hizbullah’s military wing as a branch or special force of the army, to preserve its intelligence firewalls.
Simply "disarming" Hizbullah, however, is out of the question: no Lebanese authority has the power to do that. Reflecting this reality, the government of Lebanon has already redefined Hizbullah as a "resistance" group, not a "militia", and therefore exempt from the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1559 (which requires all "militias" to disarm). This maneuver allows Lebanon’s unity government to comply with Resolution 1559 by "consenting" to Hizbullah’s continuing to bear weapons – or at least, so the government argues.
But a twist, embedded in the last phrase, undercuts Lebanon’s achievement in this paragraph. "Immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces" is phrasing friendly to Lebanon’s urgent desires. It is prefaced, however, with the debilitating word "request". Given Israel’s violation of international law and the UN Charter in invading a neighboring state, the Security Council should "demand" or "instruct" Israel to withdraw immediately, not "request" it to do so. In this phrasing, Israel is not required to withdraw and the Security Council is not charged with enforcing its withdrawal. This formula therefore leaves Israel in charge of its own withdrawal. If Hizbullah retains its arms, Israel would not consider itself obligated to withdraw.
"Determined to act for this withdrawal to happen at the earliest;"
This short phrase is both vague and strange, not even grammatically complete in English. "Act for" is foggy in English, connoting a general effort. The French version also offers unspecified and passive constructions: "Determined to act in such a way that this withdrawal happen as soon as possible" ("D