Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Negotiating With Hezbollah

First off, I actually saw the tape from Lebanon where the MP's made the controversial remarks. Peggy Nash was holding a tiny shoe she found in the rubble, while Borys Wrzesnewskyj looked deeply shaken by the carnage he had seen. Every reporter I have heard, who has witnessed the devastation first-hand, is completely dumbfounded by the scale and scope. Once you put the context in place, the statements made seem less alarming than a simple reading would suggest. Wrzesnewskyj made his comment about "state-sponsored" and I immediately thought to myself, "that will be trouble", but I could understand it because you could sense the backdrop that produced such a flippant remark. Standing in the middle of a completely bombed out area, after touring the death and misery all day, might cause someone to make comments that cooler heads might otherwise resist. If these MP's hadn't clarified their comments later, then the maelstorm of criticism would carry more real weight in my eyes.

The people who argue that we should have no contact with Hezbollah deny practical truth. If you accept the premise that Lebanon can't be liquidated from the map, then this admission brings tough choices. The reality is clear, Hezbollah is so woven into Lebanese society that it can't be isolated from the "state". Hezbollah is also more influential than ever in the post-war period, which demands some dialogue if you actually hope to reach the Lebanese people. Hezbollah won't disappear, the Lebanese people won't stop viewing their actions as "resistance" and Israel will never have security unless we engage.

Should Canada have Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations? Unequivocally yes, however Canada should also attempt to see if there are incentives that could eventually lead to removing the political wing from the list. If Hezbollah were to recognize Israel, denounce all "terrorist" activities, much in the same way the PLO did, then that represents progress and has the effect of increasing Israeli security.

The simple fact remains, the world has already negotiated with Hezbollah behind the scenes to achieve the ceasefire. The Americans have had secret talks with insurgent groups in Iraq (who have bombed and killed their own soldiers). NATO is apparently negotiating with the hated Taliban to see if some will lay down their arms. We don't have high-profile summits, but we sure as shit have some dialogue. Nasarallah has a reputation for being "reasonable", this suggests there may be room for movement with the right stick and carrot approach. Simple refusal ignores the situation and has the ironic effect of actually endangering Israel further.

If someone in the mid-80's would have suggested that Yasser Arafat would shake the hand of a Jew, win the Nobel Peace Prize, recognize Israel and visit America, they would have been institutionalized. Maybe a dialogue with Hezbollah is a useless enterprise, but what is really lost by trying? Give the "moderate" fringe in Hezbollah something to latch on too that has the potential to change minds (it does happen). We need to adopt an evolutional approach, wherein small steps could actually lead to significant change. The alternative is do nothing, ignore the "terrorists", while Lebanon suffers and we wait for the next conflict.


Jeff said...

a voice of reason on an increasingly unreasonable blogroll. thank you.

foottothefire said...

Wow. Well done! A voice of reason, indeed. More than that; an unapologetic Canadian voice that won't be swayed by hateful rhetoric and name calling.
Gen. John de Chastelain rides again!

Marc PAGEAU said...

Great text.
Rare to find these days...

Robert said...

Great post Steve.

Jay said...

Congrats! That is an amazing well written post. I do trully believe that this is what most Liberals believe, they have just been unable to voice it in a way that meshed properly.

Karen said...

Finally some sanity! Well done.

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi Steve,

I enjoy reading your thoughtful posts, which articulate something that I find lacking in so many other blogs, common sense !

Aside the songs of praise I would like to raise a few issues, if I might.

(1) If Hezbollah were to recognize Israel, denounce all "terrorist" activities, much in the same way the PLO did, then that represents progress and has the effect of increasing Israeli security.

This is a rather big if, which seems highly unlikely at the moment. So, I remain skeptical while admitting your point that things change.

(2) Negotiating with groups you’re not supposed to talk with

Well, I believe that we (the West) already do talk with groups that we’re not supposed to. You have provided many examples of instances where we already do. And I would add states to the list as well. The US and Iran have often used the Swiss as an intermediary for communication since the Iranian Revolution. It would not surprise me if the executive branches for many Western countries do not already “communicate” with Hezbollah.

I think the question is that of “official” negotiation, and the legitimacy that comes along with it. There’s an understandable fear of providing legitimacy to terrorists. However, this may have already happened in a practical sense. Hezbollah has garnered political capital in the Middle East even if its military assets are damaged goods. And if it were to fully integrate into the Lebanese state as the UNSC ceasefire calls for its disbanding, then Hezbollah may gain the same sort of democratic legitimacy as Hamas.

(3) Nasarallah has a reputation for being "reasonable"…

I’m glad that you put reasonable in quotes, because I wonder who calls him that and what “reasonable” means in their eyes.

(4) If someone in the mid-80's would have suggested that Yasser Arafat would shake the hand of a Jew, win the Nobel Peace Prize, recognize Israel and visit America, they would have been institutionalized.

Unfortunately, despite such promise, Yassir Arafat left these huge steps forward to start the intifada. And Prince Bandar has criticized him for it.

I do not know Arafat’s reasons for leaving the peace process, but it appears that for some, there are higher priorities than peace.

If Hezbollah gains “official” legitimacy, will the group leave the negotiating table like Arafat, or continue hostilities like Hamas?

I look forward to learning your views.

Anonymous said...

How peaceful it is over here in this little corner of the crazy Blogworld. Another insightful, thoughtful post.
You continue to amaze.

Keep your head down, it's crazy out there. The Witch Hunters & their Mob are growing increasingly shrill.

Steve V said...

Thanks for all the generous commentary!


A big if, no question. But, the alternative is too simply ignore and agitate, hoping Hezbollah disappears- which seems counter-intuitive.

Nasrallah as "reasonable" is something I have heard several times from various commentators. If Hezbollah was simply a collection of "suicide bombers", I don't see how ceasefire negotiations could even take place.
The ongoing discussions within the Lebanese government do speak to some rationale and tactics. An international dialogue could well move opinion past what looks plausible today.

Arafat's failing was his rigidity as it relates to Jerusalem. Whether his stubborness was morally rooted is another debate, but there is no question he hurt the peace process. I will say that when Bush came to power, his decision to marginalize Arafat created a power vacuum which Hamas exploited. There would seem to be lots of failure to go around.

Mike said...

I'll take your compaison one step further - the recognition of Israel should be the goal not the start of a process. The PLO negotiated Oslo long before changing its charter.

If can be done.

At any rate. Excellent post. After fending off the poo-flinging monkey's and blogging tories over at Chernials place, its nice to see the reason and compromise.

Steve V said...


That's a great point about the sequence of events with the PLO. Interesting to note, just prior to the latest violence Hamas showed some willingness to recognize the state of Israel within the 1967 boundaries, which was quite a departure.