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Speech delivered at the CFIA Harvard University


"Lebanon as a window of opportunity"

A Strategy for the Arab-Israeli Peace Process
Amine Gemayel
(President of Lebanon, 1982 - 1988)

Speech delivered at the CFIA
Harvard University
November 20, 1997

I would like to outline my vision for a "Lebanon as a window of opportunity" strategy for rescuing the stalled Arab-Israeli peace process. I believe that, at this juncture, such a "Lebanon First" scenario offers the greatest hope of easing Lebanese-Israeli tensions, increasing regional security and stability, and perhaps most irnportantly, injecting dosporately needed hope and vigur into bath the Palesline-Israel dialogue and trie larger Arab-Israeli peace process.
I hope to offer a realistic assessment of some circumstances which now present us with an opportunity to achieve a first, but decisive, step in creating a new framework for peace in the Middle East. I am optimistic that the program I propose here today is achievable because it accomodates the vital interests of all concerned powers including Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. Even skeptics must concerte that the initiation of "Lebanon as a window of opportunity" strategy will at a bare minimum revive Arab-lsraeli dialogue, improve the political climate, and reassert the primacy of diplomacy as the instrument of choice for the settlement of regional disputes at a time when the military option appears ever more attractive in the face of entrenched and growing frustrations.

Why are current circumstances favorable to this strategy? First, because it is manifestly obvious that the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are stalled and show no real signs of progress. The determined efforts of US Secretary of State Madeline Albright to reinvigorate the peace process, however admirable and worthy, have foundered and there is little chance that either additional high-level shuttle diplomacy or the proposed Middle East economic summit in Doha will break the impasse. In fact, speaking from the point of view of the Arabs, U.S policy in the region has been marked by confusion.

Furthermore, even had the United States deployed its influence with greatest subtlety and acumen, the fact romains that the current lsraeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu has not adhered to the measures stipulated by the Madrid conference, the Wadi Araba agreement, or the Oslo accords.

Because of a chain of unfortunate events that any casual reader of daily news reports from the Middle East is familiar with, relations between Palestinian and israeli officials and publics are now distinctly hostile. In tandem with the breakdown of lsraeli-Palestinian talks, lsrael's negotiations with Lebanon and Syria have been halted. And the very hopeful normalization measures which some Arab countries undertook with Israel have been undermined if not completely abandoned. At present, the proposed Economic Summit of the Arab states and israel in Qatar is a dead letter, and most probably will be attended by some Arab delegates only under duress imposed by heavy American pressure. Even the Arab states which are friends and allies of the U.S. such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco have decided not to attend Doha summit. In sum, it is clear that in the context of prevailing conditions no major diplomatic breakthrough can be expected on the Israeli-Palestinian issue or the wider Arab-lsraeli relationship.

If Arab and Israeli aspirations are on a collision-course in Palestine, a proposition that few would gainsay - and this despite the determined efforts of the sole global superpower - then does it not make sense to seek an alternative venue in which to effect positive movement in Arab-lsraeli relationships? I believe that the debility of the Palestinian-lsraeli dialogue calls for urgent Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli talks. A new round of such negotiations and the subsequent achievement of a sustainable security regime for southern Lebanon with not only stabilize relations between those two puwers, but it will also serve as an essential catalyst for desperately needi:d positive contact botween trie U-S- and Syria, between Syria and lsrael, and between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While success in settling one conflict surely does not guarantee the resolution of other disputes, I submit that the Only realistic scenario for achieving the diplomatic revolution needed in Arab-Israeli affairs must begin with a settlement of the de facto war being waged in southern Lebanon.

The escalation of hostility, both armed and political, in southern Lebanon has turned the country, yet again, into a tinderbox set to explode. All conventional attempts to settle the conflict have proved futile, as was recently demonstrated by the 1996 Israeli offensive into Lebanon.

Having briefly sketched some of the key conditions which underline the urgent necessity and utility of such a strategy, I would now like to turn to an examination of certain existing accords and positive trends which can be exploited to make my proposal a reality.

We must first acknowledge that the Lebanese government continues to demand implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426, which require the lsraeilis to withdraw from southern Lebanon in return for security arrangements which reassure Israel and the residents of its border regions. Israel has steadfastly refused to implement these two resolutions, citing an extraordinary range of pretexts. I recall that in 1987 when I was President of Lebanon we established, after extensive consultations with Washington, contacts with lsraeli representatives in the southern town of Naqoura. The purpose of those talks was to achieve an lsraeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Unfortunately from the perspective of my government, lsrael did not respond positively to our initiative and instead placed debililating conditions on its withdrawal. Perhaps international and regional couditions were not ripe at the time for such a settlement, but that does not mean this remains so today.

Recently Israel has officiaily altered its stance on a possible pullout from Lebanon. Israeli officials now state that they wiII withdraw from Lebanon's south provided that its border and adjacent regions in the Israeli interior area secured from Hezbollah attacks. This apparent lsraeli flexability has been - at least rhetorically - matched by the Lebanese resistance which, according to Hezbollah leaders, is prepared to cease military operations in the south and respect Israel's borders if the Israeli army withdraws from Lebanon.

Turning to the pivotal question of Syria's role we must emphasize the point that Damascus has nothing to fear from the approach. I am proposing, as long as Beirut is not calling, neither Tell Aviv for a final settlement with Lebanon, a peace treaty stabilizing the security situation in Lebanon is perfectly compatible with Syria's vital interests. What is necassary to gain Syrian approval for this strategy is a carefully cultivated and sustained consensus among Lebanon's various factions in regard to relations with Damascus.

In considering the long-overdue implentation of Security Council resolutions 425 and 426, we must remember that they address the question of the security of Lebanon, not the country's political future. 425 and 426 are designed to create a situation similar to that prevailing in the Golan Heights region, where despite a number of crises the situation has remained stable and secure since the 1973 war. Keeping in mind what has practically been achieved on the Golan Heights, where security prevails despite the ultimate political uncertainty of the region, the time has arrived to end the suffering of the people of southern Lebanon. No longer can this region be used as a helpless pawn in a horrific chess game being played by its more powerful Arab and Israeli neighbors. For Syria, helping to solve the problem of southern Lebanon offers Damascus a unique opportunity to win diplomatic presige, increase its influence in the region under a stable framework, and resume positive contacts with the United States.

A word must also be said about the role of the United States in this strategy. It is in the interest of the U.S. to reach a comprehensive settlement in Lebanon before matters deteriorate further, perhaps resulting in renewed civil strife or even yet another Arab-lsraeli war. The U.S. is the sole remaining superpower with global intetests in uphold. A full-scale crisis in Lebanon will severely drain U.S. diplomatic resources and perhaps even military power at a time when such a diversion into large-scale crisis management can be ill-afforded. Washington could also use a resumed dialogue with Damascus focused on Lebanon as a convonient upemiing tu discuss other oulstanding issues, especially those relating to an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

Turning to conditions on the ground in Lebanon, a workable mechanism for implementing this plan already exists in the form of the five-party truce monitoring group established after the spring 1996 Israeli assault on Hizbollah positions, an operation code-named "The Grapes of Wrath". Following this Israeli offensive an "April Accord" was concluded between Lebanon, Syria, France, the United States, and lsrael which established a five-party monitoring group to monitor a ceasefire. While the "April Accord" is no more than a temprorary measure, and at present threatens to breakdown at any moment, its purposes and methods could nevertheless be expanded into a new comprehensive security arrangement. Such a security structure is a practical tool to implement the required security arrangements. As I have said, peace and stability in Lebanon is by no means incompatible with Syria's strategic or national interests.

I have consistently used two words In describe what a "Lebanon as a window of opportunity" approach seeks to achieve: security and stability. The first: security, relates to restoring the territorial integrity of Lebanon within secure borders monitored by an international commission. The second: stabilily, which in this context means a reordering of Lebanon's internal politics in a manner which promotes national reconciliation and consensus. If the"April Accord" offers a realistic hope for achieving a new security arrangement for Lebanon, then I also believe that the Taef Agreement can be deployed to bolster the internal reconstruction of the country along democratic lines.

Although I concede that I have gone on record to criticize many aspects of the Taef Agreement when it was announced, it is now a political « fait accompli » and should be used to the best of our abilities to yeild positive effect. Despite its flaws, the Taef Agreement has been endorsed by the Arab world as well as by the international community. An improved security situation will faciliate implementation of some of the pending clauses of the Taef Agreement, specifically those relating to national reconciliation, development of the democratic system, and redeployment of the syrian armed forces, as a first step toward full withdrawall. The heavy-handed intrusion of Syrian military and security officers in all aspects of Lebanese national life needlessly causes hostility between the peoples of the two countries.
For example, the clashes that broke out between Lebanese and Syrian spectators at the recent pan-Arab Games in Beirut reflected a genuine sense of frustration and oppression on the part of the Lebanese people. Implementing the pending clauses of the Taef Agreement will restore trust, and allow truly fraternal relations between Lebanon and Syria to be cultivated on this basis of equality and respect.

Surveying the Middle East political scene, we cannot overstate the need for Arab opinion to be placated by a tangible, definite, and sustainable diplomatic achievement which will revive hope and a modicum of confidence that the langer peaco process can thrive. An opportunity to move forward is available in Lebanon if the relevant players sieze the moment and work together under the framework of existing agreements - the "April Accord" and the Taef Agreement. As a Lebanese, it is painful for me to reflect that a mere fraction of the energy which U.S. officials have expended on other aspects of the peace process would be sufficient achieve this breakthrough which will restore the required confidence among some arabs and Israel.

Lebanon desperately needs a period of necovery. The people of Lebanon are not demanding what is impossible, nor are they insisting on an immediate treaty with Israel involving full-scale normalization.

Today, we can envision a healed and strong Lebanon that will be a major source of support for its Arab brethren, the Middle East, and the world. In the past Israel impeded Lebanon's progress and threatened its security. Now, lsrael is demanding a solution, a solution we have too long proclaimed in vain. Perhaps now is the time and we must not allow this great opporutnity to vanish and elude both Lebanon and the Arab world. In the words of Shakespeare,

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune
Omitted, their voyages are spent in shallows and in miseries."