Posted by: sean | October 31, 2006

UN to send cartographer to the Shebaa Farms

The last major territorial dispute between Lebanon and Israel is the Shebaa Farms. Israel considers the land to be part of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied after the 1967 war, taking the land from Syria. However, both Syria and Lebanon consider the land to be Lebanese, and this is one of Hizbollah’s rationales for maintaining a militia. The is convenient for Damascus, which is afraid of the Lebanese signing a bilateral peace accord with Israel, leaving Syria to be the last remaining neighbor of Israel to not have signed an accord. As things stand, the Israelis — and the UN, which includes the land under the UNDOF mandate (monitoring the disengagement of Israel and Syria) instead of under the UNIFIL mandate (monitoring the border between Israel and Lebanon) — have assured that the Israel policies of both Beirut and Damascus are inextricably linked.

The Daily Star reports that the UN is sending a Balkan cartographer to “demarcate the precise location and area of the Shebaa Farms.”

The confusion stems from poor French mandate maps, but reasearch by Israeli historian Asher Kaufman (see “Who owns the Shebaa Farms? Chronicle of a territorial dispute” in The Middle East Journal; Autumn 2002; 56, 4 – unfortunately not available online) shows that there is strong evidence for Lebanon’s claims based on land ownership, which was registered in Lebanon, not in Syria.

It will be interesting to see what the cartographer comes up with, but it seems strange to me that concurrent official declarations by the two countries involved in the border dispute, Lebanon and Syria, would not be enough to settle the issue once and for all. We’ll see if this leads to a Lebanese agreement with Israel, which may or may not be a good thing in the long run. While it seems obvious to me that a comprehensive peace agreement, which is what Damascus is pulling for, that involves Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinians is ideal, perhaps baby steps are in order.


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