New and Renewed Partnerships and Their Implications for Peacekeeping in the Israeli-Palestinian Arena

As a result of the second Lebanon War and in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, 2006, UNIFIL's (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mandate was extended and enhanced, and the troop strength significantly enlarged. An important number of European countries and several Asian countries have responded to the UN's call, sending troops to Lebanon and contributing to the creation of an upgraded multinational force that is currently being deployed on land and at sea.

At the same time and in close proximity, despite the international community's concerted efforts, Israelis and Palestinians have been unable to progress in resolving their conflict since the beginning of the second intifada. Even if current obstacles to a resumption of the political process are overcome, the fate of such a process is dubious. Previous experience shows that both sides have tremendous difficulty in overcoming the barriers to peace, and may stand to benefit from the assistance of international organizations like the UN, NATO and the EU, as well as regional actors like Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and others, in addition to the traditional American involvement.

One promising means of international assistance is the traditional peacekeeping operation, used in the region in abundance, mostly deployed in or around the borders between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries. These existing and longstanding forces all have the mandate of observing and monitoring, among them UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force), maintaining the area on the Israeli-Syrian border; UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization), the first UN peace mission whose military officers currently occupy the observation posts of UNDOF and UNIFIL; and the MFO (Multinational Force and Observers), an independent international organization responsible for supervising the implementation of the security provisions of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Contemporary peacekeeping missions, known as Peace Support Operations (PSO), however, extend far beyond the monitoring and verification tasks of their predecessors and include a much more varied force composition. The mandates of those missions are also expanding on multiple horizons. Peacekeepers are increasingly charged with nation-building tasks like economic rehabilitation, democratization and building civil institutions and working police forces. In addition, missions are being deployed in settings considered less and less ripe for conflict resolution, adding to their mandates authorization for the use of force and intervention capabilities.1

One of the consequences of a heightened international involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the recent creation of the EU Border Assistance Mission (BAM) at the Rafah crossing point on the Gaza-Egypt border and EU COPPS (Coordination Office for Palestinian Police Support) who provide support to the Palestinian Authority in establishing sustainable and effective policing arrangements. In the past few months there have also been renewed discussions, initiated by European countries, on the possibility of deploying new PSOs in the theater.

This paper outlines the preliminary lessons from the initiation, acceptance and settling-in of UNIFIL II in the Israeli-Lebanese arena that can be applied to a possible multinational PSO in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Special emphasis is given to the renewed cooperation and partnerships created between the involved parties around the decision to use the force as a means to implement Resolution 1701 and the ensuing processes around its deployment.

UNIFIL II: Current State

UNIFIL was created in 1978 by the UN following the adoption of Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426 to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security, and help the Lebanese government restore its effective authority in the area. It was (and is) primarily deployed along the UN-drawn Blue Line dividing Israel and southern Lebanon, and operated under a Chapter Six mandate, limited to observing, monitoring and patrolling activities.

During its long presence in Lebanon, UNIFIL has operated under difficult conditions - with Israel, the South Lebanese Army (SLA) and the PLO (and later Hizbullah) not fully accepting the UNIFIL mandate with all its implications. The force's difficulties have included the 1982 Israeli invasion, as well as becoming the target of violence from different Lebanese sects and militias within its area of operation. UNIFIL - and with it the UN - have also fallen out of favor with Israel, which was highly critical of the force for, among other things, collaborating with Hizbullah too closely while not fully assisting with the goal of enhancing the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The low point in this complex relationship came in October 2000, with the insufficient reporting of the abduction of Israeli soldiers at Har Dov, followed by the UN's denial that it possessed a videotape related to the kidnapping, to which it admitted in July 2001.

The recently enhanced UN mission, deployed in Lebanon to implement Resolutions 1701 and 1559, now numbers over 11,000 troops from 23 countries, a significant increase compared to the force of 2,000 that had dwindled since Israel's 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Resolution 1701, which ended 34 days of fighting, provided for a strengthened mandate, coupled with a complete Israeli withdrawal and the deployment of the LAF in the south. UNIFIL's renewed tasks are "accompanying and supporting the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the South, taking steps towards the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani River of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL; assisting the Government of Lebanon, at its request, in securing its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon, without its consent, of arms or related materiel; coordinating its activities with the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel; and extending its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons."2

Additional roles for UNIFIL peacekeepers are the continued provision of humanitarian assistance to the local population, including medical, dental and veterinarian aid. Over the past months specialized teams of de-miners have destroyed more than 16,000 explosive devices that included rockets, grenades and cluster bombs. Troops are also involved with the reconstruction of infrastructures, especially roads and bridges.

The mandate given to UNIFIL II is the most robust mandate given to a force operating in the Israeli-Arab theater. It is positioned between the UN's classic Chapter Six of monitoring and observing and Chapter Seven, which gives the Security Council broader powers to take action (i.e., peace enforcement), including warlike actions to deal with threats or breaches of peace. The new resolution states that UNIFIL can "take all the necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems with its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind."3 In other words, there is a mandate to use force beyond self-defense, including the "resisting of attempts by forceful means to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties." After long negotiations with and within contributing countries, the mandate does not, however, include the interception of arms shipments from Syria unless requested to do so by the Lebanese government, nor will it directly disarm Hizbullah but only support the LAF in doing so through assistance on the ground and by training personnel.

The problematic consequences of the first part of this decision are already manifested on the ground - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his December 1, 2006 letter to the Security Council, indicated there were "significant deficiencies" in equipment, training and coordination among four different Lebanese government services responsible for the borders."4 The report mentioned the reports of incidents of illegal arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, and Hizbullah getting stronger as a result.

Thus far, relatively few serious (and expected) violations have been reported by Israel and Lebanon. In addition, several incidents of unauthorized weaponry were reported by peacekeepers, which the Lebanese army destroyed. An incident in which a de-mining team was challenged by two Hizbullah personnel in uniform carrying rifles led to their arrest by the LAF. However, booby traps have been found around an arms cache meant for UNIFIL,5 and reports of Al Qaida threats to harm UNIFIL persist.6 The more publicized incidents concerned Israeli intelligence flights over Lebanon and coordination mishaps with the German Navy. In the past month, however, Israel has changed its flight maneuvers so they will not be perceived as threats, and the coordination arena is calm, part of an effort at better cooperation. In sum, in the short term a relative calm is being kept, but at the same time Hizbullah seems to be re-arming itself significantly, with arms and men entering Lebanon from Syria, capitalizing on the fact that Resolution 1701 does not include UNIFIL's control of border crossings.

Lessons Learned: UNIFIL II to the Israel-Palestine Arena

Several similarities exist between the conditions under which UNIFIL II operates and the conditions facing a potential PSO in the Israel-Palestine arena - chaotic environments that include dealing with both intra- and interstate conflicts; the extensive use of terror by one of the parties, the necessity of both peace enforcement and nation-building elements, and the centrality of the conflict and its resolution to the Western world. These similarities have led to an analysis of the initial UNIFIL II experience, which identified several conditions and confidence-building measures that could be potentially useful in enhancing the effectiveness of the PSO:

* A fundamental understanding that, at a minimum, the governments of Israel and Palestine, the troop-contributing states, the international community and the UN can potentially achieve the majority of their goals via an effective multinational force. A related requirement is a basic partnership among the relevant parties, which will only come about through a mutual and long-term process of changing attitudes and mentalities. In the case of Lebanon, the fact that Hizbullah is only a partial partner at best is taking its toll, the recent uprising against the Siniora government being one example.

* The creation of the multinational force being considered an achievement by both parties, declared publicly by the highest political figures to be a positive and necessary entity. For example, the Israeli government indicated that Hizbullah's removal from its positions along the border and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force that enables the beginning of diplomatic processes were considered the most important achievements of the Lebanon War. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora described the 1701 resolution as "a triumph for Lebanese diplomacy."

* The parties' deep involvement in the negotiation processes over the terms set for the force. Both Israel and Lebanon were an important part of the Track One and Track Two negotiations over Resolution 1701. Although compromises were made regarding the Rules of Engagement - mainly that UNIFIL troops would not actively participate in the disarmament of Hizbullah and not be deployed at border check points to prevent arms smuggling - the actual influence exerted by Israel in the weeks before and after the final signing contributed to the current state of higher commitment rather than the dissatisfaction and bitterness that was typical of Israel's attitude towards UNIFIL I. For example, Israel was involved in multilateral and bilateral efforts to influence European countries to send their troops to UNIFIL, and in determining the overall composition of the force. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed, in her meeting with Annan on August 16, 2006, Israel's desire for a mixed force of European and Muslim countries. An example of Siniora representing Lebanese interests is his strong criticism of the early drafts of Resolution 1701, written jointly by the U.S. and France, for not requiring Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon.

* Realistic expectations from the forces' mandate. Timur Goksel, former spokesman for the UNIFIL, indicated in July 2006 that part of the great Israeli disappointment is a result of the expectations that UNIFIL, rather than being a peacekeeping force, would be a "combat force or an anti-terror force."7 Realistic expectations and detailed and concrete agreements about the mandate of the force and its rules of engagement are especially important in the sensitive Israel-Palestine arena, where fantasies, strong emotions and violence play a major part, as experienced by the EU BAM force at the Rafah crossing in December 2007, when the crossing was attacked by Hamas demonstrators.

* One of the keys to both Israel's and Lebanon's acceptance of UNIFIL being that democratic European states, with their values and their professional armies dominate the force, combined with having a UN mandate and legitimacy. There is a strong similarity to NATO in terms of composition and potential military effectiveness, while at the same time reducing some of the controversies and negative emotions that are often attached to the presence of the U.S. and Britain in the Arab world, significantly enhanced by the Iraq War. Additionally, it allows for the presence of forces from Arab and Muslim states that promote its acceptance.

* Deep involvement and additional strong motivations of the troop-contributing countries to succeed in the mission. Italy, France and Germany, which contributed the largest number of troops, have similar aspirations to strengthen their positions in Europe and NATO. Italy's Prodi government has made a public strategic decision to increase Italy's involvement in resolving conflicts in the region. As of February 2007, it will also lead UNIFIL II. UNIFIL's success in achieving its mission is tied, then, to the image and esteem attached by external parties and internal participants to the military capabilities of its most significant contributors, motivating each contingent to perform at its best.

* A balanced public view of the international community involved in the multinational force that takes into account: the fundamental right of Israel to exist, and to exist in a permanent secure homeland for the Jewish people - free from attack, free from terrorism and free from the threat of attack; and at the same time, a belief in the fundamental right of the Palestinians to independence, freedom, self-determination and a dignified future. Reconciling these two fundamental beliefs into one common vision has been the central effort of the mediation and diplomatic efforts by the international community in the recent past. The belief that Lebanon as represented by Siniora's government is entitled to the same principles of independence, freedom and self-determination, combined with a sense of urgency, have been one of the catalysts of the relatively fast decision to deploy UNIFIL II.

* Sound relationships with the international bodies responsible for commanding the force. While Palestinians, for a variety of reasons, have a strong relationship with many UN bodies, Israel's relationship with the UN has seen significant and important changes and progress in the past five years. New steps to enhance the relationship are being taken; moving away in some parts from what has long and often been a troubled relationship. This is generally true, to differing extents, for the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Secretariat, operating under the secretary-general. Quite often the Secretariat charts a semi-independent course, such as the work through the Middle East Quartet and the efforts dedicated to the Road Map.8

Annan began to explicitly emphasize the need for the UN to be balanced some time after the Lebanon War. This attitude, also evident during the war, allowed Israel to relax its position towards continuing and enhancing the deployment of UNIFIL, and is therefore another pre-condition to the deployment of a PSO in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

Tactical coordination arrangements on the ground, some already set before the deployment of the force, are also crucial to its effectiveness. Examples from UNIFIL II include:

1) Frequent, regular and efficient meetings between high-level military representatives of the involved parties. Such meetings are also recommended at the strategic and political levels.
2) Enhanced and structured liaison mechanisms and channels, dealing with day-to-day and emergency situations.
3) Continual mutual sharing of relevant intelligence and information between the force and the parties that benefit from its presence.

To summarize, Resolution 1701 and the ensuing UNIFIL II in its new form have been in existence for only a short time, and a much longer process is needed to be able to determine accurately the effectiveness of its peace support mission and the necessary conditions and factors that lead to it. However, it is a good time to start reflecting on its initial relatively positive results and to try and adapt this preliminary knowledge to the Israeli-Palestine arena to help determine the conditions for a successful and potent force that will help ease the complex relationships between the parties.

Further indications that this kind of analysis is already being carried out at the highest levels of the UN were seen in Annan's remarks during Security Council sessions devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian issue in December 2006, before the end of his term as secretary-general. In more than one session Annan warned that the situation is "more complex, more fragile, and more dangerous than it has been for a very long time,"9 admonishing the international community to shoulder its responsibility to help promote a negotiated two-state solution.

This analysis is of special relevance because of the new initiatives proposed by European countries to deploy such a force, and the new openness displayed by Israel and Palestine to consider different alternatives and ways for establishing an international force in the territories as part of a future agreement.

1 Taken from a description of the Truman Institute Conference on PSO in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in June 2006.
2 UN Security Council, SC/8808, August 11, 2006.
3 UN Security Council, SC/8808, August 11, 2006.
4 UN Security Council S/2006/933. December 1, 2006.
5 From a very reliable report, the source of which I cannot reveal.
6 IDF Major General Amos Yadlin, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, January 9, 2007, as reported in The Jerusalem Post.
7 From Democracy Now's web site and a telephone interview, July 26, 2006.
8 Based on a speech by Terje Rod-Larsen, former UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process, given at a 2004 conference at the Hartog School for Government and Policy.