The Shebaa Farms/Har Dov are mentioned in both the preamble to UNSCR 1701 as well as in the text of the resolution itself as a point of contention that needs to be revisited. This is an incredible blow to Israel and a significant victory for Hizbullah. A good overview of the conflict over Shebaa is included at Wikipedia, including the point that the UN investigated over 90 historic maps and found only one that depicted the Farms as Lebanese and that map was deemed a forgery.
I wrote a comment on Pierre Tristam’s fine website, Candide’s Notebooks, referring to my sense of why Shebaa is an important issue in this war, and wanted to post it on Jewlicious now that the second worst case scenario has come to pass. I hope Pierre doesn’t mind.
Pierre, there are a couple of issues here. First, as far as I understand, Shebaa is not that impressive of a piece of real estate. There is some strategic advantage inside one part of it for Israel. Although I am not a general, I believe it isn’t critical. These days, when 100 katyushas a day stop life in the northern third of Israel, I’m not sure what piece of land has true strategic value any more, but that’s another matter.
Second, one day Israel will negotiate again with Syria for peace, and this piece of property may play an important role in those discussions.
Third, while I agree that there isn’t much value to this piece of land, there is great symbolic value as you noted and it has been created, ironically, by Hizbullah.
By claiming it as Lebanese land and using it as a pretext for both its continued belligerence against Israel and its exemption from disarming as the other Lebanese militias have done, it Hizbullah has given this land great meaning for the Israelis, for the Lebanese who support Hizbullah, and for the Palestinians.
By agreeing to any demand over Shebaa, the Israelis would essentially encourage future attacks on any sovereign borders it establishes and which are agreed to by the international community.
This would legitimize the illegitimate and unprovoked attacks by Hizbullah in this instance, but what is worse is that as a precedent it would establish that Israel has no final borders. Ever. Today it’s Shebaa, tomorrow it’s an orchard next to the West Bank. At what point does Israel get to simply exist without somebody claiming this or that piece of land?
If anything changes with respect to Shebaa as a result of this war, Hizbullah will have won a far more significant victory than simply being able to withstand the Israeli attacks. It will be the first Arab army of any form to actually win land from Israel and it would have done so by contravening international norms boldly and without apology. This would set an example and precedent that will surely lead to more (if that’s possible) war.
Having said that, it also serves the Syrian purposes not to solve the problem here for the same reasons that Hizbullah finds this idiotic piece of land so useful as a pretext.
As far as I’m concerned Pierre, if you had said to me 4 weeks ago, “Hey, let’s make Shebaa Farms a neutral zone,” I would have agreed without a quibble. You would have had to get me written assurances from Hizbullah, Lebanon and Syria that this would close the matter, but with those assurances you would have been welcome to make this land a nature reserve or a water-park or the Mid-East’s biggest shopping mall – anything non-military.
The problem now is that it is more than a patch of land. It is now the symbol of the UN’s ability or inability to determine and enforce borders, and of a country such as Israel to withdraw from land it controls (by any manner) with international oversight and adhering to historic maps and norms and then to have the other side respect this withdrawal. It is a symbol of whether the international community will stand vigilant over its own rulings in any matter relating to states and borders. If this symbol is tampered with because of this war, it will represent a signal failure to respect final borders and Israel will never be able to trust a peace agreement with any partner where a land exchange is part of the deal. In other words, no agreement will ever be meaningful as far as peace is concerned. Don’t forget, what Israel sought in Camp David and Taba as well as previously with Syrian talks, is that the Arab side agree to “end of conflict.” This idiotic piece of meaningless land has come to mean that Israel may never trust such promises if it has to give in after being provoked into war.