Thursday, August 10, 2006

Putting Pieces Together Is More Important than Connecting the Dots

(I apologize if my optimism below offends anyone.)

update:The piece below proposes that Israel and Lebanon compensate each other the war damages they have suffered. Lebanon on this view is held accountable for the actions of Hezbollah. Some readers have usefully criticized the idea that it would require each side to acknowledge responsibility or blame. It is absurd to expect that. Besides calculating blame is backward looking. So I should rebrand the proposed payments as investments for peace. The respective war damages then estimate the investments that are needed for each country to regain the life and prospects it had on the eve of the conflict, given new trajectories.

With a cease-fire draft resolution in the pipeline and probably a cease fire itself to follow, the “Day After” should already look challenging to most leaders in the Israel-Hezbollah war. In Israel, Hezbollah, Lebanon, the United States, there will be scores to settle. The Israeli public might want to know why its political leaders trusted their generals, bowed to public expectations and authorized wide scale bombing of Lebanon in response to Hezbollah’s capture of two reservists. They will certainly want to know why the army could not produce the outcomes that the generals promised. The survivors in Hezbollah might want to know how Nasrallah so badly miscalculated Israel’s response to this incident. Other Lebanese might ask why their government had let Hezbollah continue for so long in its irresponsible provocations of Israel. Finally, Americans and others around the world should want to learn why the Bush administration shirked its responsibility as a superpower and failed to demand a cease-fire sooner.

Amid the recriminations, I hope some might consider mutual reparations as a right step toward a more peaceful future. One cannot and should not put a value on the over one thousand Lebanese and over one hundred Israelis that have been killed in the conflict. But one can estimate on each side the direct expenses of the war, the material damages, and the loss of future revenues and income. I propose that Israel and Lebanon compensate each other for the material damages and the foregone revenues. In saying this, I consider Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah’s action both because Hezbollah was part of the national unity government and because the national government was derelict in exercising authority over Hezbollah. One might argue that only with the Cedar revolution and Syria’s exit form could Lebanon exercise such authority in accordance with its obligations under Resolution 1559. This point might entitle Lebanon to a discount.

The reparations can be in money, kind or service. They should not cover the costs of expended and destroyed military equipment, which includes Hezbollah offices and facilities, used for the hostilities or supporting propaganda. They should also not cover the foreign currency reserve that the central banks in Israel and Lebanon used to support their local currencies during the conflict. The material damage can be evaluated as, first, the repair or replacement costs for the roads, housing, factories, farms, stores, schools and other physical facilities that were damaged, less their respective cumulative depreciation on the eve of the conflict. The evaluation also needs to include the costs for the rehabilitation and support, as long as needed, for people physically or psychologically wounded by the war. The foregone revenue would include the loss of industrial production and service sales during the conflict or as an immediate consequence of it, e.g., the loss of fall harvests in southern Lebanon and northern Israel. But these estimates should also calculate the impact that the damage, memories and lessons of the war will have on certain sectors of the respective economies. Tourism in both countries will inevitably suffer for some years. Paradoxically, Israel’s burgeoning sale of high tech military equipment might decline because such equipment had limited success in the type of war that Israel fought and that its customers will likely fight.

An international mediation board, with technical expertise, under United Nations auspices could facilitate the assessment of reparations and assure equity. This board should include representatives of Israel, Lebanon, permanent members of the Security Council and one of Hezbollah’s putative sponsors, Syria or Iran. Decisions regarding estimates of damage might be governed by a rule that each side’s aggregate estimate should not exceed the other’s or some other agreement at the outset. Both Israel and Lebanon can raise the money to pay the reparations in anyway they wish, short of bank robbery or similar illegal acts. Friends of the respective sides might willingly contribute to the reparations, if they believe these will help underwrite peace for future decades. Nevertheless, it helps for certain high profile, feel-good but vital projects be publicized to encourage contributions -- poster children for the reparations. One such effort could be an Israeli organized fund to clean up the Lebanese coast, polluted by oil as a consequence of Israel bombing the Jiyye power plant. A Lebanese fund might be directed at restoration of burned forests in northern Israel.

In addition to its direct benefits, even a mildly successful implementation of this idea could contribute in several ways to stability in the Middle East. First, it might encourage real efforts for reparations to Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967, and to Jews forced out of Arab countries in the 1950s. That would remove a major impediment to settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, since the payouts in both the Lebanon-Israel and the Israel-Palestinian cases would occur over years, it would also give each side a stake in the other’s economic development and welfare. Finally, it would publicize with excruciating clarity the costs of a war. Those figure might give politicians, generals and publics pause before turning to a military solution for a crisis.


Blogger Phill H-B said...

The timing may not be a coincidence. Either one supposes that having retired to his holiday ranch Bush is unable to disrupt Rice's diplomatic moves or there is some new dynamic that has persuaded Bush and the Neocons to abandon their previous plan to fight Hizbullah to the last Israeli.

It may be no coincidence that these moves came immediately following the disclosure of the Heathrow bombing plot, generally considered to be an Al Qaeda operation. If so this means that Bin Laden has made good on his previous threats to revenge Israeli attacks on civilians.

Needless to say, had the plot succeeded the sympathies of the US public towards Israel and the Neocons would likely have undergone a sudden revision.

8:23 PM  

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