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Diplomacy under duress

Firas Al-Atraqchi

The semantics of international diplomacy have been manipulated to shield the prospect of prolonged warfare in Lebanon, writes Firas Al-Atraqchi

August 10, 2006

The Israel-Lebanon conflict, analysts say, has far-reaching geopolitical implications for the future of the Middle East and the nature of (US) involvement in the region's politics.

Hizbullah has been strengthened, some say, while others have pointed to the weakness of Arab leadership and their failure to resolve the conflict that continues to demand a terrible civilian price.

However, while the above forecasts may be true and eventually vindicate their authors, the Lebanon crisis may also have far more devastating consequences for the scope of international diplomacy and convention.

Future history students of the 21st century will contemplate how international protocols established over several centuries between nations to avoid conflict or bring about speedy resolutions have been restructured and redefined not to prevent warfare, but to cover for it.

In a nutshell, international diplomacy, with particular reference to recent conflicts in the Middle East, is nothing but a jingoistic sham.

The catch phrases 'last ditch effort for diplomacy', 'going the extra mile for diplomacy', 'nobody wants a war', and 'ceasefire' have been repeated ad nauseam by every talking head, from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while the fighting rages in southern Lebanon.

However, taken in the light of the failure of the (UN) Security Council to pass a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, the above 'initiatives' become mere tools of deliberate sloganeering, designed to buy time until one member state achieves its military goals against another.

This is hardly the crux of diplomatic efforts.

When Lebanon's envoy to the UN, Nouhad Mahmoud, called for an immediate ceasefire, a parade of US and British politicians marched in unison to protest at such a move, saying no ceasefire could be attained unless a comprehensive settlement was reached in the Middle East.

When the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora demanded an immediate ceasefire in the wake of the Qana massacre of women and children, and 'advised' Rice not to come to Lebanon without such an initiative, the US responded by saying it was interested in pursuing a ceasefire.

Ten days after the Lebanese buried the dead of Qana, there is no ceasefire and Rice has not yet returned to Beirut. So much for shuttle diplomacy. But observers of UN efficacy in the past five years should not be surprised. It has been the agenda of the Bush administration to systematically scuttle any movement to resolve -- or avoid -- conflict in the Middle East.

Point in case was the build-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In early March 2003, Chile's envoy to the United Nations suggested giving Iraq three weeks to meet certain disarmament objectives. The initiative was compiled to bridge differences between UN Security Council members who were feeling pressured by US efforts to secure the necessary nine votes for a UN resolution authorising war on Iraq to pass. The White House flatly rejected the initiative, saying three weeks was far too much time. Far too much time for what? For a diplomatic solution that could avoid chaos and bloodshed?

The word diplomacy is not a difficult word to understand: simply put, it refers to "the art or practice of conducting international relations, as in negotiating alliances, treaties, and agreements". But according to Rice -- as evident in her speeches about the crisis -- diplomacy means the securing of international legalisation for an illegal war. Diplomacy is a smoke-screen, a carte blanche, an authorisation to wage war. A laissez-faire for Israel to rout Hizbullah.

But slightly more disturbing is how relevant the so-called American-French draft resolution will be to ending hostilities in Lebanon. Firstly, it gives Israel the right to defend itself by firing on Lebanon, if it deems a threat exists. Secondly, it allows for the indefinite presence of Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, an implicit green light for Israel to resume its occupation of its northern neighbour.

But the resolution, as one-sided as it already is in its draft form, is practically still-born if weighed against Rice's statements on Sunday. "We're trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years, and so it's not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council."

"I would hope that you would see very early on an end to the kind of large-scale violence, large-scale military operations," allowing for the deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon. "But I can't say that you should rule out that there could be skirmishes of some kind for some time to come."

That is a peculiar statement for one who is mediating between warring parties (or so it appears) to resolve the conflict. However, it is readily explained by the premise that the draft resolution is specifically designed to be met with rejection by Lebanon, Hizbullah and many Arab countries. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, as well as the Lebanese government, have said the draft is one-sided and does not address many of the latter's key provisions for long-term stability in the region. In this context, then, the draft is little more than another effort to prolong the conflict.

Rice, unfortunately, also seems to be misinterpreting the nature of ceasefires. They are not designed to change the political and social landscape. They are not designed to achieve or disrupt military campaigns. They are not designed to curb large-scale military operations in favour of strategic strikes.

Flat out, ceasefires are designed to bring about the temporary cessation of hostilities and belligerent actions by mutual consent of the opposing parties in the conflict, paving the way for enduring treaties and deals. Only then are long-term agreements signed, not under duress of fire.

Rice continued, however, to call for a quick vote for the Franco-American draft resolution. But the reader should not be swayed by what is being molded to reflect the Bush administration's determination to end the war. Time and again, the administration, with a loyal 'free' media acting as its subservient organ, is attempting to lend a compassionate, psychologically- balanced and moral face to the ongoing ravaging of Lebanon.

Consequently, the catch phrases mentioned above can only be seen as misconceptions; a mechanism to beguile the world, and specifically the American public. The fact that the United Nations has allowed this conflict to rage for a month, with a cataclysmic loss of civilian life and infrastructure, points to two things. Firstly, that the United Nations system and the current veto privilege of the declared nuclear powers is flawed and often contradicts the basic tenets that the UN was established to withhold.

But secondly, beyond the UN, the conflict also reveals the direct challenge to the apparatus developed, rewritten and redefined since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which marked the end of the Thirty Years' War and was the first initiative towards international law.

French and American diplomats at the UN continue to speak of their "last ditch diplomatic efforts" to bring an end to the conflict. In today's language, that means war.

Postscript: why was Chile's proposal rejected in 2003? The answer is simple: it set back the timetable for an invasion of Iraq and risked damaging infantry morale in elevated desert temperatures. Why has the UN Security Council failed to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Lebanon? Simple: to allow Israel more time to achieve its objectives.

:: Article nr. 25634 sent on 11-aug-2006 00:16 ECT


Link: weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/807/re82.htm

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