Coming to Terms: Middle East Peace Agreement Between Israel and Lebanon
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We start with a view of the Israeli government. It comes from Colette Avital, Israel’s consul general in New York. Thank you very much for being with us. What is new in this agreement? How does it differ from the unwritten understandings that the parties came to in 1993?
COLETTE AVITAL, Consul General, Israel: (New York) In many ways. First and foremost because it is a written agreement and because there are signatories, there are people who are involved in its implementation, Syria, Lebanon, the United States; second of all, because it precludes ambiguities; third, because there will be, in fact, a monitoring group that will see to it that the agreement is implemented. There are military clauses and in a way there are political clauses which are quite important in this agreement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is written but not signed. Why?
MS. AVITAL: It is an agreement that has been brought about by the United States. And, in fact, if you read the text, it starts by the announcement that this is the United States, who announces this, this agreement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There’s no enforcement mechanism. What makes you think that this would stick? Why should we think this will stick when the other agreements didn’t?
discussion MS. AVITAL: There are monitoring groups and I believe that, in fact, there is a will on all the sides. There is a stronger commitment on the part of the Lebanese government. There is a stronger commitment on the part of the Syrian government.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you think there has really been a move forward here?
MS. AVITAL: I think there is a move forward. There is the understanding also that this is–cannot come in place of a permanent agreement, that we need tranquility and stability in the area. There is the fact that the international community will also help Lebanon to reinforce its, its situation, and all these put together mean that there is a will on the part of the international community, there is a will on the part of the United States, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon to come back to the negotiating table and to find the permanent solution which is, in fact, what we need.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does it concern you that Hezbollah is not explicitly a party to this agreement?
MS. AVITAL: Uh, not, not really. I mean, we do not recognize and we do not have direct dealings with the Hezbollah, and we believe that the Hezbollah has to be disarmed. I remind, perhaps, your listeners or your viewers that there was a type agreement by which the Lebanese government undertook to disarm all the militias. All of the militias were disarmed, with the exception of the Hezbollah. What we expect now is that the Lebanese government take a stronger control of the situation, that gradually the Lebanese army take over the south of Lebanon, and then after it takes control of that situation and of the area and it disarms the Hezbollah, we can get into a permanent agreement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I’ll come back to that in a minute. Do you–can you tell us any more about the monitoring group, how it would function?
MS. AVITAL: The monitoring group so far is consisting of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, France, the United States. It has not– there are no rules that have been set. I think that the monitoring group itself has to meet in order to set the rules of the game.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the consultative group, there’s also a consultative group–
MS. AVITAL: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: –that will include the European Union and Russia.
MS. AVITAL: And France.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And France. Do you understand what it is supposed to do?
MS. AVITAL: Yes. It is supposed to bring some measure of economic and other relief to Lebanon to bring more well being. Perhaps one should take as a background the fact that if Iran today has such an impact and such a weight in Southern Lebanon it has managed to get the Hezbollah because it brought a lot of money into Southern Lebanon and because it provided services. Then basically what we’re seeing here is that if the international community steps in, helps Lebanon, helps the civilian population that has been harmed by this whole situation, perhaps it may have an influence which would, in fact, neutralize the Iranian influence.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Lebanese government has insisted that the Israelis didn’t need to resort to this level of military action to come to these agreements. What is your response to that?
discussion MS. AVITAL: Well, we, in fact, took limited action with the exception of one terrible accident. We hit basically the targets from which the Hezbollah bombarded the north of Israel. Perhaps what is also good about this agreement is the commitment this time that no group and not only the Hezbollah, no group out of Lebanon, can, in fact, target the civilian population and not only northern Israel but all over Israel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now the understandings do leave a zone in southern Lebanon that Israel controls or occupies, whatever words you want to leave, and the Lebanese have said there can’t be peace until the Israelis withdraw. How do you respond to that?
MS. AVITAL: I think I already have. And I’ll simply get back to the same point. We are ready to leave that security zone. We certainly do not wish to remain there, but in order for us to do so, the Lebanese army has to be able to take control of that, that area and to disarm the Hezbollah and then absolutely we are willing to, to remove our forces.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Looking at this agreement and at the process that’s occurred over the past week, do you think that there’s been a step forward towards a comprehensive peace?
MS. AVITAL: We also have to remember that this week the PLO has decided to amend its charter. That, I think, is also a very good step forward, so hopefully if we manage to eliminate not only the verbiage but also the real terrorism from our area, we can move forward with peace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You don’t think this has set back peace? There have been news reports about anger throughout the Arab world because of, of the various things that happened in Lebanon.
MS. AVITAL: Uh, I don’t believe that this will be the overriding atmosphere. I believe that now there’s a lot of hope in the Middle East that we can move forward with the peace process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you see any specific signs, and especially in this process, the way it developed, that Syria or Lebanon are ready to move ahead quite quickly on a comprehensive peace? Did anything happen over the last week that we should have taken notice of that maybe you saw that we missed?
MS. AVITAL: Absolutely not. We certainly don’t have that type of an indication that they’re ready to move–to step forward very quickly, but perhaps the American administration has such indications. I personally don’t have them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One result of this process has been that Syria has been put back in the driver’s seat. Do you think that helps or hurts the process?
MS. AVITAL: I think that Syria has had to face two facts; first and foremost, that it tried to rule or to, to impose certain rules to the game, and it has not succeeded, in fact, and also, if you look at the document, which is, in fact, the understanding between us, Syria has to face now certain responsibilities, so I don’t believe Syria has gained anything from the situation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Ms. Avital, thank you very much for being with us.
MS. AVITAL: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Now, to Charlayne Hunter-Gault and to the Lebanese perspective.
discussion CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We get that perspective from Riyad Tabarrah, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, you heard Ms. Avital say that this is a move forward. Do you agree, this ceasefire?
RIAD TABBARAH, Ambassador, Lebanon: Yes. I believe that it is a move forward. It’s an improvement over the 1993 agreement.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In what way?
AMB. TABBARAH: Uh, basically in, umm, in the fact that it’s written. I think that the fact that it’s written agreement makes it clear, but I think basically it is the fact that there is a, now a committee or a group that will see complaints, that will look at complaints when, when one of the parties says that the agreement was broken.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean, France and the United States?
AMB. TABBARAH: Yes, the five countries.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Five countries.
discussion AMB. TABBARAH: But there is also another group which will, will assist Lebanon in, in its reconstruction efforts. This is–these are the new elements in the agreement, but what is sad, actually, what makes me sad is that these, these improvements in the 1993 agreement could have been reached very peacefully. I don’t think there are things that had to have 300 people, children, murdered, and, and infrastructure destroyed and so on in order to reach this improvement in 1993 agreement.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But–excuse me, I’m sorry. You heard what Ms. Avital said, that Israel was forced into the position and that although they regretted the terrible accident that happened they really had no choice.
AMB. TABBARAH: Well, but this situation, if this is the result of the tremendous attack on Lebanon. I think basically this result could have been achieved otherwise. We could have sat down. We’ve been talking about it. We’ve been saying it for the last few years. Let’s sit down and talk about the withdrawal of the Israeli force from Lebanon, and that we will guarantee security on, on our side of the border. I think that’s what we have come to right now with this new agreement, and, and, uh, this is going to be the final solution anyway.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you think the ceasefire is going to hold?
AMB. TABBARAH: I believe it’ll hold just because as far as we’re concerned, yes, we will do everything in our power to make it hold. We think that military solution–we have said it again and again–this is not the solution– the military is not the solution. It is a negotiated settlement, and we’ll see to it that this, this ceasefire holds.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think it’s going to take, because Hezbollah was not a party to these negotiations and yet, most of the conditions that have been laid down apply to Hezbollah, so why are you so optimistic that it’s going to work?
AMB. TABBARAH: Well, the agreement does not say that there should be no resistance. The agreement allows resistance within the occupied territory, the occupied part of Lebanon. What the agreement says is that both parties do not hit civilian targets, exactly like the 1993 agreement, except this time it’s written.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, who’s going to–excuse me–who’s going to enforce that? You heard Ms. Avital say that Lebanon, its army, and its government have to do this. Is, is the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army prepared to sit on Hezbollah?
AMB. TABBARAH: Well, I think if, if Hezbollah or any part of the resistance movement in Lebanon breaks the agreement, yes, we will do our utmost to, to stop this, this, this thing, but I don’t think that is–that was the problem in the past. The problem in the past was very simple. There is occupation of this part of the country. Because there is occupation, there is resistance. Any time you have occupation and resistance, you’re going to have things get out of hand every once in a while. This–this is the purpose of this agreement, is that for things not to get out of hand, not to stop the resistance, not to get things out of hand; therefore, the final solution is not going to be this agreement. The final solution is for an Israeli withdrawal from the south of Lebanon, the Lebanese army taking over the responsibility for that region, and then our president said many times, he said, I will send 35,000 troops to that area to maintain calm in it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you heard Ms. Avital say that the first thing that has to happen is for the Lebanese army to take over the area, not for the Israeli troops to withdraw, that the Lebanese army has to secure the southern part of Lebanon first. Is the Lebanese government prepared to do that?
AMB. TABBARAH: I, I fail to understand what she was referring to because how could the Lebanese army take over the southern part of Lebanon when the Israeli army is occupying it? I think, I think we can sit down and negotiate a phased withdrawal of the Israeli army, replacement by the Lebanese army, and after that process is finished, I don’t think there will be any resistance. Resistance is because there is occupation. Once there is no occupation, there is no resistance. I don’t think there is a problem in that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about her call for the Lebanese army to disarm Hezbollah, how realistic is that? Is that something you’re prepared to do?
AMB. TABBARAH: Well, you see, the resistance not only, Hezbollah–Hezbollah is one of the parties resisting the occupation–it’s the leading party at this point, but it’s not the only party. No, I don’t think anybody could ask the people who are occupied, whose homes and lands are occupied by Israel, not to resist. This is a right. This is a human right, to resist the occupation. However, if Israel says I will withdraw and let the Lebanese army come and take the place of the Israeli army in that region, I think the problem will be solved.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What role do you see Syria playing at this point, especially with respect to Hezbollah?
AMB. TABBARAH: Well, of course, Syria has influence over Hezbollah. We have influence over Hezbollah. I think lots of–any guerrilla movement has connections with many sources that they have influence, that have influence on it, and I think this time because we and the Syrians are willing to put our weight on Hezbollah not to hit civilian targets, and there is a mechanism that will rule on who started and so on, I think it has more chance of not getting out of hand as often. But you will recall, every time it got out of hand in the past, we put our weight and the Syrian weight on both sides and the American weight on both sides, and we solved the problem. This time it just got out of hand.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: As you heard Ms. Avital–both Ms. Avital and Sec. Christopher earlier say that the only way to get beyond this now and have a, a stable peace and a comprehensive peace, is to get back to the table, the peace table. How fast can your government start following up on this and getting back to negotiations with Israel?
discussionAMB. TABBARAH: There has to be an invitation by the United States, and apparently, this is coming. We are ready any time to go back to the negotiating table. You know, we’ve had already 11 sessions of negotiations with Israel. Our position has always been let us negotiate a phased withdrawal and the replacement of the Israeli army by the Lebanese and the problem will be solved. Israel felt that it could solve the problem by military means, and I think now the facts have proven that we were right all along, and had we, had we succeeded in convincing the other side, we wouldn’t have had all this misery.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Ambassador, thank you.
AMB. TABBARAH: Thank you very much.