Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment of Franklin Lamb’s series on Hizbullah, reprinted from counterpunch.org.
What the Bush administration wants from Hizbullah
A public announcement of, and adherence to, a Hizbullah policy that separates Islam from terrorism in the minds of the Western public, i.e. between religions on the one hand and terrorist activity on the other. This, the U.S. argues, will allow for acceptance of Hizbullah in the West and allow for normalizing relations;
In a switch from sponsoring Salafists against Hizbullah, Washington now wants a “security cooperation understanding” with Hizbullah whereby it would monitor al Qaeda and provide the U.S. with information about groups or individuals Hizbullah may have information about. For example, those who are apt to strike inside the U.S.;
Hizbullah is to agree to stay away from the Blue Line from Naqoura to Khiam and further up opposite Shebaa Farms;
To end its encouragement of and support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad;
Remove itself from activity regarding Syria and the Golan Heights and leave that issue to the parties directly concerned
Desist from making an issue of the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar and leave it to the U.S. and the U.N. to see that Israel withdraws;
Pull back from Iran and concentrate on its own role as a political party operating strictly for, of and by Lebanon.
Hizbullah must separate itself from the Arab-Israeli conflict including Jerusalem;
Hizbullah should commit to Lebanon not taking more than its “equitable share” of the Lebanese rivers and water sources including the Wazzani, which, argues the Bush administration, supplies 30 per cent of “Israel’s Jordan River” (!)
Hizbullah must agree not to interfere with the naturalization or relocation of Palestinians in Lebanon or with transferring groups of them internationally to suitable countries for ‘proper settlement’ as a resolution of the Right of Return issue.
What does Hizbullah get in return?
“Nobody can impose terms on us, or commit us to anything we do not believe in. Let me be clear: Israel won’t get through politics what it didn’t get through war, even if the U.N. resolution gave this to Israel. What they couldn’t do through war, they want to do by peaceful means? It doesn’t work like that.”
Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem, Al-Manar television, 15 August 2006
Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr (“just call me Joeanything but Sue” as he does his Johnny Cash imitation), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and twice presidential candidate, is a friendly, loquacious and knowledgeable fellow. Having served on that committee for nearly a quarter century and traveled widely, Biden thinks of himself as someone who can be confronted with ‘deal breakers’ at the negotiation table and work out mutually acceptable solutions. He apparently believes that if Barack Obama becomes president, U.S. policy in the region may change.
Some members of Biden’s committee staff generally favor engagement with Hizbullah (privately) if the party would agree. “The Party of God, not the Zionist controlled Democratic Party,” one staffer hastens to add.
When asked what they conclude the U.S. would be willing to extend Hizbullah based on earlier feelers and offers and what they learned from committee staff discussions with White House congressional liaison personnel, State Department contacts, and their own tuition, the following emerge:
Rebuilding Lebanon and keeping Israel at bay
“The U.S. will consider funding a ‘Marshall Plan’ type operation for rebuilding south Lebanon and guarantee [that word again!] that Israel stays out. The U.S. would be prepared to transfer directly to Hizbullah designated bank accounts “enormous sums of money to spend on the territories Israel destroyed, and equivalent sums to improve other deprived areas of the country.”
A congressional media operative noted this off the record by email:
“Just ask Egypt and Jordan how we can sweeten a deal! Hizbullah should not worry about losing Iranian funding. We’ve got a lot more than they do!”
The Bush administration would anoint Hizbullah with the U.S. imprimatur of “international legitimacy,” repeal the relevant targeting executive orders and remove Hizbullah’s information unit (Al Manar TV, Radio Noor etc), its construction company (Jihad al Bina), its social service agencies and its financial institutions from the U.S. Treasury and State Department terrorism lists.
Cluster bomb maps
The U.S. will force Israel to turn over maps of planted land mines, cluster bomb maps and firing logs which the international community has been demanding for the past 18 months following the end of the 2006 July war. Hizbullah is greatly concerned about the unexploded ordnance terrorizing its popular base in the south. The Tyre based U.N. Mine Action Coordination Committee has so far uncovered 966 civilian locations where Israel dropped U.S. cluster bombs covering an area of 39 million square meters. UNMACC Program Manager in Tyre, Chris Clark, estimates that de-miners have been able to locate and disarm 143,000 U.S.-supplied cluster bombs, but another million or more may remain. Since the end of the fighting in mid August 2006, the total number of people injured or killed is 296 according to Dalia Farren, director of media relations at UNMACC.
To date the Bush administration has not demanded the maps from Israel, despite Lebanese continuing to die, because the State Department Office of General Counsel produced a legal memorandum which warns that if Israel releases the demanded information it will effectively constitute a self-indictment for war crimes.
UNIFIL knows this but has chosen to keep quiet while routinely renewing its public demands knowing that Israel will not comply unless the U.S. forces it. The Pentagon has no problem with “cutting the bastards (Israel) loose on this one and forcing them to ‘fess up’,” according to a congressional source.
A clarifying comment from one of the aforementioned memorandum’s authors:
“The Winograd Commission claims that Israel used cluster bombs in accordance with international and U.S. law has no support from the July 2006 record. Israel committed serial war crimes as well as wholesale violations of American law that no other country would be allowed to do.
In 1982 President Reagan cut off cluster bombs to Israel for 6 years. This time President Bush won’t touch the issue and Congress has buried the U.S. Arms Export Act violations, hoping the public won’t demand its application. Some U.S. officials complain that they have a hard time looking their Lebanese-American constituents in the eye. “We are not proud of what’s become of their little country because of our weapons.”
Releasing Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails and territorial sovereignty
The U.S. would obtain the release of all Hizbullah detainees and prisoners from Israeli jails;
The U.S. will force the return of Shebaa Farms, Ghajar, end Israeli over flights of Lebanese territory and violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
From opposition to government
The U.S. would secure a bigger role for Hizbullah in the Lebanese government while establishing normal relations with the party, lifting all U.S. travel constraints imposed on its members and supporters while cooperating with Hizbullah in forming a new government based on the results of the 2009 elections while encouraging a new census, the first once since 1933.
As a Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Lebanese specialist recently emailed:
“Do you really think Lebanon’s hereditary tribal government is going to change? More than one-third of Lebanon’s Parliament constitutes family hand-me-down seats. If you agree that the Lebanese people are fed up with the ‘warlords’ how do you think we feel? There ought to be a one person, one vote system to elect their leaders. For me personally, dealing with a group that keeps its word would be a welcomed relief in my office. Hizbullah is quintessentially nationalist and can handle Iran and Syria. You get my meaning.”
One staffer on the House subcommittee on the Middle East explained as background:
“Personally, and I certainly don’t speak for the White House, I see the whole of Lebanon on the table. The right deal and Hizbullah can have it as far as I am concerned. What is the right deal? Our committee staff mainly believes Hamas will offer essentially a perpetual cease fire to Israel in exchange for all, repeat, all of the Palestine taken in 1967 and a return to the June 4, 1967 border with Jerusalem at its capital. That includes a full right of return for the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees. That means no checkpoints, no settlements, no outposts, no Israeli presence and no excuses!”
If Hamas can accept this, then Hizbullah’s past statements regarding acceptance of a solution to the Question of Palestine arrived at by the Palestinians might mean peace.
Hizbullah accepts dialogue as a matter of principle and axiom. Historically, the Shi’a culture generally and Hizbullah in particular is comfortable with discussions and exchanging ideas with friends and foes ranging from issues of war and peace to social problems to religion and ways to improve peoples’ lives. It is prepared for dialogue over the question of Palestine, the central cause of Arabs and Muslims and increasingly people around the world.
However, Hizbullah has consistently rejected most U.S. feelers because, as Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has stated, “our acquiescence to America’s demands would simply have meant abandoning our faith, our people and our history.”
As far back as November 16, 2001, Hassan Nasrallah explained Hizbullah’s past objections to U.S. offers to the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam:
“As for their demand that we sever our connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict, that would mean the total elimination of Hizbullah’s head and heart, a complete disregard for the martyrs’ blood and a betrayal of their families’ tears, of our people and of their sacrifice. It would also mean giving up our religious and legal duty to come to the assistance of Palestine.”
According to Hizbullah, the U.S. has tried several times “to place us in a state of confrontation with what they called “Sunni fundamentalism.” They tried to provoke us along these lines, on the grounds that, in the future, Sunni fundamentalism will pose the gravest threat to Shiism.” The Bush administration, according to Hizbullah, also tried to get Iran to attack the Taliban and provoke a Shi’a-Sunni confrontation. But Iran did not fall into the trap.
With respect to the bargaining chip of pulling back from the Palestinian cause, Hizbullah considers that it has, in the words of Nasrallah, “a moral, humanitarian, religious, patriotic, and national duty towards the Palestinians.”
Hizbullah believes that peace will come to Palestine and the region not through a phony “peace process” trying to buy off the Palestinian or Lebanese resistance but when the occupation ends. It really is that simple. And until the Bush administration or its successor in Washington really understands this, negotiations will remain just talk.
One Hizbullah acquaintance stated: “We need to ensure at the beginning of negotiations that the occupation ends. Then peace can be made between states. An occupied people cannot make peace with its occupiers.”
With respect to the current “situation” in Lebanon, Hizbullah’s international relations officer, Nawaf Moussawi stated recently that the “most dangerous thing in U.S. policies currently [has been] their engagement in the blatant disruption of attempts at dialogue and consensus among Lebanese political forces.” Moussawi added that the U.S. was engaged in “deepening political and sectarian divides within each confession in order to ignite mobile civil wars.” He stressed that the freedom of Lebanon could only come through its “self-defense capabilities, including those of the resistance” and that independence could only be attained through consensus and unity.
What the Hizbullah leadership discusses in its Shura Council becomes public knowledge only when Hizbullah wants it to. But until today Hizbullah views U.S. proposals with deep suspicion and as calculated to advance Israel’s agenda in the region.
Hizbullah is no stranger to the Bush administration’s carrot and stick pattern of wooing and then harshly threatening if overtures are spurned. Hizbullah respects the American people but views most of the recent American governments proposals “as nothing but a political bomb meant to destroy Hizbullah, since they cannot of course destroy us by dropping a nuclear bomb on u.s.,” as Hizbullah’s Secretary General Nasrallah has said.
Regarding the future, Nasrallah told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam:
“We are not at all worried. We are holding fast to the options that our legitimate, religious, national, humane, and moral commitments impose on us, and do not think that the U.S. will carry out military operations in this region. At any rate, they do not have valid pretexts for doing so, and we stand firm in our positions, our path, and our convictions.”
Many in Washington would favor dialogue with Hizbullah. It remains to be seen if “bridge builders” can make that happen and if we are going to see some serious changes in U.S. foreign policy starting with the Middle East.