Tuesday, August 08, 2006

New York Times Editorial - In Lebanon, a truce must be imposed

New York Times Editorial - In Lebanon, a truce must be imposed
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 7, 2006

It is now 26 days since Hezbollah and Israel began their latest combat - a very long time for the world to allow such a deadly conflict to rage in the Middle East powder keg. Yet the fighting still continues. Diplomats still dither over cease-fire details. Innocent people keep dying.

Enough. This is the week that the international community must impose a truce, to be followed, in short order, by a political settlement and the dispatch of a robust international force to patrol Lebanon's oft-violated border with Israel.
The Security Council now appears within reach of an agreement on how to make this happen. Two successive resolutions will be offered.

The first, based on an agreement over the weekend between the United States and France, would call on both sides to stop fighting, with their forces, at least for now, remaining in place. The resolution would also outline steps for achieving a permanent cease-fire along with a more lasting political settlement. For now, the truce would be monitored by a beefed-up version of the weak UN monitoring force already present in south Lebanon.

A second resolution, meant to follow in two to three weeks, would fill in the details of the political settlement, to be worked out in consultation with Israel, Lebanon and Syria, and would authorize the long-term international force.

Several crucial details remain to be ironed out. The first resolution, as it currently stands, would permit Israeli forces to remain in Lebanon, at least until the second resolution is approved and the new international force put in place. That provision has sparked sharp opposition in the Arab world. The longer Israeli troops remain on Lebanese soil, the more likely they are to become a magnet for renewed Hezbollah attacks. Israel would, of course, respond, and that would be the end of any truce.

Efforts must therefore quickly turn toward negotiating a comprehensive and lasting political settlement. This needs to go beyond immediate issues like returning the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, releasing Lebanese prisoners and determining the size of the zone to be patrolled by the international force.

It also needs to address such festering issues as Hezbollah's refusal to heed UN requests to disarm, and Hezbollah's claim, contrary to UN findings, that some of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is not part of Syria, but really belongs to Lebanon. Anything not resolved now risks setting off new fighting in the future.

Troops must also be lined up for the international security force. The idea is to draw them from NATO countries like France, Italy and Turkey, along with perhaps Australia. None of these countries wants to send soldiers if either Israel or Hezbollah is going to keep shooting. Therefore the political settlement has to be packaged so that both sides can claim some sort of victory.

For Israel, that must include some assurance that Hezbollah will no longer be able to cross into Israeli territory and kidnap Israeli soldiers or launch its rockets against Israeli towns and cities. Hezbollah will probably claim victory from the fact of having stood up to a four-week onslaught by the region's mightiest army.

This ugly war has already killed about 700 Lebanese and more than 90 Israelis. Almost a quarter of Lebanon's people have been routed from their homes. With the human price of combat so high, this settlement must be built to last.

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