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Middle East Endgame III: Israel, Syria and Lebanon – How Comprehensive Peace Settlements Would Look


INTRODUCTION

This ICG report is one of three published simultaneously, proposing to the parties and the wider international community a comprehensive plan to settle the Israeli-Arab conflict. In the first report, Getting to a Comprehensive Arab-Israeli Peace Settlement, we argue that approaches that rely on the gradual restoration of trust, the prior cessation of violence, fundamental Palestinian reform, or various incremental political steps being taken are all inadequate to alter the underlying dynamic that is fuelling the conflict. As much as we would wish otherwise, we fear that the appalling resort to terrorist violence against Israelis, and the large-scale Israeli attacks that are destroying all hope on the Palestinian side, will not be stopped by these means. 

Instead, we recommend an approach that, while persisting in the effort to reach a cease-fire, improve the situation on the ground, reform Palestinian institutions and rebuild their shattered economy, seeks to deal with the ultimate political issues up front. Our conclusion is that the international community, led by the United States, should initiate a comprehensive settlement strategy. This should involve not only the Israeli-Palestinian track, although this is obviously at the time of publication the most immediate and serious problem requiring major attention, but the Israel-Syria and Israel-Lebanon tracks as well, which if left unresolved will inhibit the necessary comprehensive reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world.

In the second report, How a Comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian Settlement Would Look, we spell out in detail our proposals for the content of both a bilateral agreement between Israelis and Palestinians and an associated multilateral agreement whose core signatories, in addition to the parties, would be the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN (the “Quartet”) and the key regional supporters of the bilateral agreement – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. ICG has been engaged in intensive discussions with many Israelis and Palestinians for a number of months, as well as many others in the international community, and the terms of our proposed bilateral settlement represent our best assessment of what can be accepted by both sides as fair, comprehensive and lasting.

In this third report, Israel, Syria and Lebanon – How Comprehensive Peace Settlements Would Look, we make a similar best assessment of what fair and comprehensive deals on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks should look like. Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is tied in numerous ways to resolution of the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese disputes, the other two outstanding conflicts between the Arab world and Israel. Left unresolved, these disputes threaten to destabilise the region as a whole. Cross-border attacks by the Lebanese Hezbollah, supported and influenced by Damascus, risk provoking large-scale Israeli retaliation and, in the event of miscalculation on either side, a possible escalation toward outright warfare. Syria also harbours several radical Palestinian organizations and provides assistance to similar Palestinian groups based in refugee camps in Lebanon and involved in violent attacks against Israelis. The presence of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees whom Lebanon adamantly refuses to permanently resettle adds another source of tension. Perpetuation of the Israeli-Syrian conflict means continuation of the alliance between Tehran and Damascus, raising genuine concerns in Israel. In contrast, a peace agreement with Syria would greatly enhance Israel’s strategic posture vis-à-vis countries like Iran and Iraq. 

Finally, the prospect of normalisation with the Arab world is a key element in persuading the Israeli public to accept the compromises necessary to reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. But without an Israeli-Syrian settlement, it is hard to imagine that there can be broad Arab reconciliation with Israel, no matter what happens on the Palestinian front. In order for there to be comprehensive reconciliation with the Arab world, in other words, it is a reasonable assumption that there will need to be comprehensive peace deals.

In sum, an international initiative on the Middle East holds the greatest chance of success if it tackles the conflict in all of its dimensions – Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese. This report, together with its companions, shows how this might be done.

Amman/Washington/Brussels, 16 July 2002




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