Ian Black’s piece today
, “Is it time for the west to engage with Hamas and Hezbollah?” raises this point by Rob Malley: “So al-Jazeera did a service by bringing their representatives together with two respected American experts, Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group and Mark Perry, an independent writer with excellent sources in the US military. Malley argued that both movements needed to clarify their intentions about the final outcome of the conflict with Israel: did Hamas accept a two-state solution?”
I think Malley misses the point and so to does Black at least as far as Hizbullah is concerned. The Party does not “need” nor does it, at this point of growing military and political certitude, necessarily desire the US and some others to “engage” it…. since there is little hope that this will lead to much, beyond momentary confusion and concern for Israel and a bit more “international legitimacy” – both of which would likely be outweighed by the confusion such engagement would cause within its core constituency and leadership circles.
The US will simply never be able, politically, to deliver much of anything in “engagement” with Hizbullah (Hamas has more to gain and less to lose from wider engagement of course given its far greater strategic vulnerability and needs). Syria and Iran — states — are different cases.
So lets stop thinking that Hizbullah desperately wants the US and its close allies to engage it – even though the appearance of desire on the US’s part nominally assists the Party. Which leads to the second point, and Malley’s “big question.”
Hizbullah “craves,” as Hamas wants (note the potential divergence here, more a result of strategic context than ideology I would think), to see the end of the Jewish state of Israel – i.e. a one-state solution.
The point is that this ultimate desire, as Nasrallah has made clear for many years, is always already constrained by facts on the ground (see the earlier post on the potential raising of the Israeli flag over a beirut embassy in March 2000). In other words, even if Hizbullah wants a final victory, it’s deisre and ability to use violence toward that end can be (and should be) radically undermined such that the ideological desire remains limited to just that: a desire.
The critical point then to underline – and one that differentiates the analysis from a mostly war-loving, right wing perspective – is that acknowledging Hizbullah wants to see an end to Israel does NOT mean War – or bringing the stick to bear – is the only or even best solution.
Indeed, I think it is the worst approach.
Nasrallah, in his stronger position of the last few years, in fact encourages others to use Hizbullah’s growing military balance with Israel towards the settlement end which he and the Party neither want, nor think is actually possible, given the US-Israeli negotiating position and history.
Politically, it is a brilliant maneuver that has only strengthened as the “peace process” has faltered.
Here is the logic of resistance buttressing the logic of settlement in Nasrallah’s own words:
In the 2006 Divine Victory speech: “How can you obtain an honorable settlement, while you announce day and night that you will not fight? You do not want to fight for Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, or even Jerusalem. How then can you obtain a reasonable settlement, while you announce every day that you will not use the oil weapon? In fact, even if anyone comes to speak to you about the oil weapon, you deride him, saying: This is backwardness. You do not want to fight, boycott, use the oil weapon, or even allow the people to come out in the street, or the resistance in Palestine to be equipped…”
“How can these states secure a just and honorable settlement between quotes? Does the Israeli recognize them in the first place? I tell you: The Israelis today view the Resistance and the resistance men in Lebanon with great respect. As for all those lowly ones, they are not worth anything. Even the Arab initiative calls for a stand. It calls for men and power. If you can’t use power, you can at least threaten with it. The talk that we are weak will not do.”
Two years later: “Realistic political behavior,” says that, “you [must] first convince the Israelis of the need to have a just and comprehensive peace before asking the resistance movement to lay down its arms…”
And in the recent new manifesto: “The resistance option constitutes a fundamental need and an objective factor in stiffening the Arab stand and weakening the enemy, separate from the nature of the strategies of the political wagers that have been made. On the basis of the above, the resistance has no objection to spreading the benefits of adopting it as an option whereby the benefits reach the various Arab positions.”
Departing from the prepared text, Nasrallah then looked directly at the camera and said, “Even those who have opted for a settlement have a need for this resistance…Indeed, we want them [the Arab states] to benefit from the resistance.”
This may smack of mere deception to some of the critics of Nasrallah who view him monolithically… But the point is crucial to understanding Hizbullah’s enduring power and support: Even as they pursue the gamble of violent resistance, they are still able to appeal to many of those in the arab and Islamic spheres who want a negotiated settlement – a two state solution.
Use the fist of our resistance, Nasrallah says, for the handshake settlement you want. In the aftermath of Oslo’s collapse, and the failure of the US and Israel to concede a bit more when their power was so much greater in 2000-2005, well, Nasrallah says, this might be your (the settlement camp) only hope.
For those on the US-Israeli side, it is of course hard to swallow the idea that conceding more in a settlement now – perhaps even one just on the Syrian track – would still leave, an albeit geographically isolated, Hizbullah that wants an end to Israel. In 2000, the US and Israel could have had a Hizbullah immediately disarmed and a secure peace on both the Syrian and Lebanese borders via a deal with Damascus. Now, however, as the balance of power continues to shift, this immediate, all encompassing, totalizing form of a total end to any and all resistance is simply not achievable (although a two state solution, on top of peace between Syria and Israel would go very far towards this end in the immediate term).
The New Deal then: Getting Hizbullah to integrate under the authority of the state of Lebanon will take more time and have less of a guarantee of 100% security for Israel, especially in the absence of a two state deal at some point after a deal with Syria. It would also take combined US-EU and arab state efforts on the Lebanon track to bolster the Lebanese state and finally reach a tipping point where Hizbullah’s desire and ability to use violence has been so undermined that a possible flare up is easily contained by all parties invested in the settlement (including Hizbullah’s main constituency, the Shia).
This tipping point can be reached though, given the way that Hizbullah acts and calculates its interests, and given the dynamics of Lebanon and the region.
This may not be the ideal path, especially since the 100% guarantees of yore are out the window in the new settlement matrix – but it is far far better a path for US interests, Israeli interests and the overwhelming majority of Lebanese interests than the path of War we are currently on.