September 7, 2006
The Stockholm Conference: A Political ObscenityBy Rachel Neuwirth
After a month of military action in Lebanon pitting Israel against Hezbollah, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1701. A cessation of hostilities was reached in mid—August, 2006, and two weeks later a conference was held in Stockholm to specifically raise funds for the reconstruction of Lebanon, its infrastructure, buildings and houses but without any concern whatsoever on the damage inflicted by Hezbollah on Israeli civilian facilities.
The Stockholm Conference included some sixty participants, comprising many countries, international organizations and NGOs. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, opened the conference on August 31, with an appeal for help after 'Israeli bombing wiped out 15 years of postwar development.' Expected to raise about $500 million, the participants pledged close to twice that amount in what was considered an overwhelming success, while Israel was sidelined.
The Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson, showed his solidarity with the Lebanese people:
These are noble sentiments; no one should be indifferent to the human suffering of civilian populations. But there is a shocking omission in this kind of statement: the quest for responsibility. Whereas the European Left has always been eager to find exculpatory 'root causes' in all matters related to Islamic terrorism after 9/11, and found them in such implausible factors as poverty, inequality, oppression, joblessness and alienation, there was no mention in Stockholm of the root causes of the Lebanese ordeal. This omission is nothing short of obscene. A brief background is in order.
Israel was attacked in an unprovoked aggression. The aggressor was Hezb'allah. The casus belli which triggered the war on July 12 — after 6 years of constant infiltrations and cross—border violations in full view of the UNIFIL observers whose dubious role is still being questioned today — was the launching of Katyushas across the Israel—Lebanon border at the same time that two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped and a few others were killed.
Everyone recognized that Israel was the attacked party: the G8, the UN, the EU and even Saudi Arabia in their official statement just after July 12 were all unequivocal in identifying Hezbollah as the aggressor. And yet, at the Stockholm Conference, the only thing we heard from the 'international community' was pledges to assist Lebanon in its reconstruction effort as if the country had suffered a natural disaster.
This is an obscenity.
There was nothing natural in this destruction: it was the result of a war which was launched from Lebanese territory against a sovereign neighboring country. Certainly, Lebanon, as a country, did not attack Israel. Hezb'allah did. But Hezb'allah is an armed militia which is affiliated to a political party with significant representation in the Lebanese Parliament and at the ministerial level, even though it is trained, armed and spiritually supported by a foreign power, Iran. Moreover, except for his declaration on the first day of hostilities, Fouad Siniora maintained his unveiled support for Hezb'allah during the five weeks of hostilities, conveniently forgetting his obligation to disarm Hezb'allah, as required by UN Resolution 1559 which was passed two years earlier.
It has also been established that the regular Lebanese army cooperated with Hezb'allah in more than one occasion. Therefore, holding Lebanon as a squeaky clean victim of aggression is also obscene. Whatever the legal responsibility of Hezb'allah—Lebanon may be in triggering the war, and conducting it, there is no doubt that Israel was the victim of aggression. But none of the participants in the Stockholm Conference ever raised this issue. Worse, some organizations even compounded the obscenity by accusing Israel.
In an appalling statement, analysts of the European—based Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (French acronym CADTM) declared,
They went on to say that
Not content to single out Israel, CADTM suggested that the United States, which backed Israel and helps equip and finance the Israeli army, should also be liable for 'reparations.' And they concluded with this pearl of Orwellian doublespeak:
These comments from CADTM should have provoked an uproar of indignation, but nothing was heard in the august halls of the Stockholm Conference. This silence was also obscene.
Now is the time to raise the issue of 'reparations' in its proper context. The Fourth Hague Convention (1907) in its Article 3 covers the conditions for war reparations that the aggressor is liable for. These provisions were further developed in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. More recently, the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), created in 1991 as a subsidiary organ of the UN Security Council, had a mandate to process claims and pay compensation for losses and damage suffered as a direct result of Iraq's aggression on Kuwait.
UN Security Council Resolution 687, dated April 3, 1991 and adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter, mentions that
Chapter VII is important because it concerns 'threats to peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression.' We should also remember that the formal cease—fire between Iraq and the Allied Coalition was made dependent upon Iraq's acceptance of all the provisions of Resolution 687.
The parallel with the unlawful attack by Hezb'allah on July 12, 2006, and the resulting damage inflicted on Israel's civilian areas could not be starker even though, in this case, UN Resolution 1701 failed to mention any liability on the part of the aggressor. Had a conference been convened in Stockholm back in 1991, I doubt its single concern would have been to assist Iraq financially.
No one would deny that innocent Lebanese civilians suffered greatly from the war. But so did Israeli civilians, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced, 6,000 homes destroyed and the northern Israel economy in shambles.
So, rather than basking in the one—sided consensus of Stockholm, a more constructive way to handle the situation would be to create a joint Lebanese—Israeli body, comprising those elements of Lebanese society that have not been tainted by Hezb'allah, i.e. Christians, Druzes, Sunnis and possibly a portion of their Shia population, and launch a combined claim for war reparations to Hezb'allah's supporters, namely, Syria and especially Iran.
This approach would have many advantages that were not apparent in the ill—conceived Stockholm Conference:
None of the above was in the agenda of the Stockholm Conference, where Israel was viewed either as the aggressor or as the party working against peace. In the conferees' lopsided view of reality, where the relationship of cause to effect never enters the equation, the donor countries at the Conference also pledged half a billion dollars to the Palestinians, 90% of which is to be channeled through the Palestinian Authority, now controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas. No questions were asked, no conditions set.
Once again, the international donors were mesmerized by the swan song of Mahmoud Abbas, whose senior advisor complained about the 'never—ending' humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. He lamented the 'deterioration of the situation, given the constraints imposed on the Palestinians.' It would take a volley of Kassam rockets crashing at the entrance of the Stockholm Conference hall to give these donors a bitter taste of reality.
Salomon Benzimra contributed to this article
Contact Rachel Neuwirth.