Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Crazy Plan for Ghajar

Ghajar presents a difficult problem.

In a nutshell, the town was Syrian, captured by Israel in 1967 and its citizens given Israeli citizenship when the Golan heights were annexed in the 80s (the annexation is not internationally recognized.) After the last conflict in Lebanon, the UN found that the border between Lebanon and Israel (annexed Golan Heights) ran through this town. Israel seems to want to leave the town but the residents--Israeli citizens--would really rather just be a part of Syria and do not want to be part of Lebanon, literally fearing for their lives if Hezbollah should establish a presence in the village. At the same time, residents of the town have rejected the simplest proposal made by Israel to meet its security concerns, which is just building a wall through the town on the border. Israel rejects, for security reasons, the proposal to have UN peacekeepers protect the town, residents don't seem to like that idea either.

Where's King Solomon these days?

Unless a creative solution is found, someone will be walking away from this problem very upset and may, heaven forbid, turn up dead.

What if the status quo could be maintained somehow? It seems that the biggest problem with the situation at present is that Israel is on territory that Lebanon has legal sovereignty over, not that this IDF presence is actually causing problems (i.e. engaging in hostilities--it's just sort of sitting there, it seems.) Lebanon needs to be satisfied that its sovereignty over Ghajar has been restored.

What if, as suggested in the comments to the previous post, Israel could formally renounce its sovereignty over the northern part of the town, but, in order to maintain the status quo, somehow lease the town in a Hong Kong scenario?

Maybe it could work if Lebanon formally declared sovereignty over the town and the UN and Israel supported it. Lebanon could then suggest to the UN that since the residents of Ghajar do not want to be part of Lebanon, the UN should take control in the region for the long term, maybe even several generations. The handover would not be permanent, and would not be free either, Lebanon would expect compensation for the land it has sovereignty over, but was not taking direct control of. This is why, it could be agreed, secretly, that in turn, the UN would allow Israel to remain on the leased, northern part of Ghajar and Israel would somehow cover the costs of the "lease" over Ghajar by, perhaps, transferring tax revenue from the village or giving Lebanon--for free or for very little--certain non-military goods that may be produced in the region, similar to how Golan Druze sell their produce in Syria.

Therefore, in summary, Israel stays in Ghajar, as per the status quo except that now, the town would be under UN mandate and the UN would allow Israel to stay. This satisfies Israel's security concerns and the desire of the residents to not be transferred to Lebanon and not have their town divided. Lebanon would officially and legally have sovereignty over Ghajar but, under the terms of the lease would temporarily relinquish its access to Ghajar in exchange for some sort of compensation. This satisfies Lebanon's claims to the territory. The lease, could be many generations long and contain a provision ensuring that in the event the Golan is returned to Syria, a referendum can be held to decide which country to join, Lebanon can agree to accept the will of Ghajar residents.

Perhaps the talks between Lebanon and Israel which would be required to hammer out such a complex arrangement could be the start of discussions on other points of friction between the two countries. Perhaps it can be a starting point for more talks by this commission. Perhaps this plan has set of your "naivete" alarm or perhaps this post should be sent to my local Israeli and Lebanese embassies.

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