News Analysis: Israel offering Ghajar to gain goodwill points

November 10, 2010 10:27 am 

By Adam Gonn

JERUSALEM, Nov. 10 — The fate of the small village of Ghajar located on the border between Israel and Lebanon appears to be sealed as Israel plans to withdraw from the northern half of town.

When Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, Ghajar with an estimated population of 2,200 was one of the villages came under control.

It was originally believed to be located solely on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon. But United Nations cartographers ten years ago ruled that only the southern side of the village, now controlled by Israel, is located on the Syrian side of the international boundary, while the northern part is in Lebanon.

Following the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1701, Israel promised to leave the northern part of Ghajar. The division of the village has often been used by Hezbollah as a reason for continued hostility towards Israel.

Recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel had given up on trying to coordinate the withdrawal with Lebanon, saying that "perhaps the time has come for a settlement between us and the U.N., rather than waiting anymore for Lebanon."

While the matter was discussed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during their meeting on Monday in New York, no result has been announced.

Analysts on both sides said Israel's decision was most likely motivated by international politics rather than any military rationale.

NOT MILITARY CONSIDERATION

Meir Elran, a senior researcher of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua that the move will only make slight difference to Israel's military deployment.

According to Elran, it will make little difference militarily for Israel if its troops are located in northern Ghajar or on the border.

Hilal Khashan, professor of Political Studies at the American University in Beirut, told Xinhua that there is no reason to assume that the Israeli move will have an impact on the internal situation in Lebanon.

"This move will certainly fail to induce Hezbollah's behavior. If anything, Hezbollah will demand Israel's withdrawal from Shib'a Farms," he said, referring to another disputed area on the border between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Lebanon.

But the decision to pull out would give a much-needed boost to the beleaguered Lebanese prime minister, Khashan said.

Elran said the timing of the decision is connected to Lebanon's domestic context. Israel has an interest in strengthening the Lebanese government in its emerging conflict with Hezbollah over the results of the Hariri murder investigation, he said.

Following the assassination in February 2005 of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the father of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the UN launched a special tribunal to investigate the murder.

The final report of the tribunal has yet to be released, but it is likely to point fingers at Hezbollah.

A GESTURE TOWARD WASHINGTON

Elran pointed out that Israel is trying to use the withdrawal to please the international community.

"Israel is willing to go ahead with an agreement with the international community on issues beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issue," Elran said, adding that Israel has shown a willingness to return Ghajar while the country feels that it is being backed into a corner.

Khashan also agreed with Elran that the move should be seen as an effort to please the international community and the U.S. in particular. Khashan said Netanyahu has repeatedly rebuffed Obama and he desperately needs to accommodate the American president on something, while keep on shunning the tricky issue of settlements.

"For Netanyahu, settlement construction is far more important than that part of the Ghajar village," he said.

Netanyahu is currently visiting the United States. Many local pundits believe that he will strike a deal with the Americans on settlement freeze, so as to restart direct peace talks with the Palestinians, which broke down in September as Israel's 10-month settlement freeze ended. (PNA/Xinhua)

ALM/ebp

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