Friday, August 11, 2006

French Duplomacy

Nidra Poller, TCS Daily:
Franco-American co-sponsorship of a UN Resolution aimed at a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon was hastily, or hopefully, interpreted as a sign of newfound harmony. That entente is beginning to look like a fragile bridge stretched across a widening chasm. This comes as no surprise to observers on the ground, here in France, attentive to the real thrust of official declarations and unofficial opinion-making channeled through the media. From the very start, the nature of the conflict and the conditions for a diplomatic solution have been framed -- for domestic consumption -- in the terms that France is now trying to impose on its American partner.

The American diplomatic team may have thought the resolution hammered out with its French counterpart was an honest compromise ready to be put to the vote. French officials now say it was nothing more than a basis for further discussion. Terms and conditions they could not impose on the first (or first 50) go-rounds are presented as ultimatums. President Jacques Chirac, who briefly interrupted his summer vacation to meet with select cabinet members, announced that France will present its own cease fire resolution if the Americans refuse the new conditions. READ MORE

The attempted co-sponsorship might have been an opportunity for France to assume a long-coveted honest broker role in the Middle East. France's privileged relations with Lebanon and the expectation that French troops would play a decisive role in the multinational intervention force weighed heavily in the equation. Interviewed on state-owned France 3 television earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy situated France's role in the conflict geometrically, at the pivotal midpoint between Lebanon and the Arab League, as well as Israel and the United States. Asked if French troops would participate in the multinational force, he replied, "pourquoi pas" [why not]? The verbal equivalent of a Gallic shrug. While the rest of the world seemed to think a UN vote was imminent Douste-Blazy told the local audience that he intends to "enrich" the draft proposal with demands formulated by Lebanon and the Arab League.

If we are to verify the claim of French diplomacy to stand at the midpoint, it would be useful to examine the endpoints. Israel & the United States are pushing for unconditional liberation of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, a decisive military victory over Hezbollah, implementation of UN Resolution 1559, notably disarmament of Hezbollah and assertion of Lebanese sovereignty all the way to the Israeli-Lebanese border. Though Israel and the US have reluctantly accepted the idea of a multinational force under UN command, it would be fair to assume that they are hoping it will never happen. In a wider perspective, Israel and the United States see the Hezbollah attack as an initial foray in Iran's war against the West or, more precisely, its jihad against the infidels.

Where do Lebanon and the Arab League stand?

Lebanese PM Fuad Siniora states their position clearly in a Washington Post op-ed ("End this tragedy now" 9 August). Siniora, blaming the crisis exclusively on Israel, recalls his seven-point solution, including an exchange of prisoners, an immediate cease fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops, evacuation of the Farms of Sheb'aa, deployment of a beefed-up UN force concomitantly with Lebanese army troops, implementation of the Taif accords... These terms, which accredit Hezbollah's pretext for attacking Israel and satisfy Hezbollah's up-front demands, have been echoed in countless declarations by French officials for domestic consumption over the past four weeks. Now France is insisting they be integrated into the UN resolution.

Rising above these specific points, Siniora gives a panoramic vision of the conflict: Israeli occupation of Lebanese territories is the cause of this war; Israel is a pariah state that slaughters civilians and disrespects international law. Forcing Israel to withdraw will be a step toward a "final solution [sic] of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, which has plagued our region for 60 years." No political solution is possible as long as Israel continues to occupy Arab land in Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights, and wages war on the innocent in Lebanon and Palestine.

According to this logic, Hezbollah can't be disarmed until the international community imposes that final solution to the problem of Israel's presence in the Middle East.

This is why French diplomacy, from the start and to this day, is irreconcilable with the American position on the conflict. Hezbollah intends to destroy Israel, Israel is determined to destroy Hezbollah. What does it mean to stand at midpoint between these two ambitions? In his solemn unilateralist speech, Chirac said that anything short of immediate cease fire would be "immoral." Reduced to the absurd, this would mean that the moral position is to let Israel half destroy Hezbollah and Hezbollah half destroy Israel.

By stepping into the co-pilot's seat, France lent its UN Security Council veto to Lebanon and, consequently, to Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. But this is not the spring of 2003, France is not trying to block a US military intervention in Iraq or at least brand it as an illegal war. The issue is a ceasefire, and even if Israel and the United States could be convinced all down the line there is no guarantee that Hezbollah and its Iranian masters would accept anything short of total surrender to dhimmitude. The failure to draft and pass a UN cease-fire resolution will not be a victory for French diplomacy; it will mark the failure of midpoint morality. The war will go on to its logical military conclusion. Sooner or later everyone will have to take sides.

Nidra Poller is a writer living in Paris.