A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ghajar Withdrawal Appears Likely Soon

Israeli withdrawal from the Lebanese half of the town of Ghajar seems likely in the near future, (also see here), amid reports that it is working with the United Nations to assure the security on the Lebanese side of the border once it pulls back to the internatonal frontier. I posted on the background of the Ghajar issue here, and refer you to the details there, but essentially Ghajar is one of the easiest territorial issues to address since Israel has no desire to stay on the Lebanese side of the border (which it reoccupied during the 2006 war with Hizbullah); it's awkward because the town straddles the old Lebanese-Syrian border and the Syrian side is part of the Israeli occupied Golan.

Ghajar is an anomaly, a town divided by an international border that, during the period between 1982 and 2000 when Israel occupied its security zone in south Lebanon, grew into a larger and united entity. (It's also an anomaly because the population is ‘Alawite, and most Syrian and Lebanese ‘Alawites live much farther north).

Israel says the only reason it is still in Ghajar is because the Lebanese Army failed to come up with a plan to assure the security of the border against Hizbullah infiltration, and now the UN seems to be working hard to bring about a withdrawal. It's the one withdrawal Netanyahu can safely carry out without offending any major Israeli constituency, and there have been reports it is a priority for the US to get Israel to withdraw before the Lebanese elections June 7. (One of George Mitchell's aides, Fred Hof, is both an old friend of mine and one of the acknowledged experts on Lebanese border issues; his hand may be in here somewhere.)

Of all the various territorial issues in play, Ghajar seems like the one most likely to be solved in the near term.

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