The Stockholm Conference: A Political Obscenity

There was no mention in Stockholm of the root causes of the Lebanese ordeal. This omission is nothing short of obscene.

Rachel Neuwirth,

Rachel Neuwirth
Rachel Neuwirth
Salomon Benzimra contributed to this article.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 put an end to the month long war between Israel and Hizbullah. Two weeks after the cessation of hostilities, a conference was held in Stockholm to specifically raise funds for the reconstruction of Lebanon, but without any concern whatsoever for the damage inflicted by Hizbullah 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 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: "Our message... should be clear and firm: You are not alone.... War may be the business of some, but peace will always be our common duty."

However noble these sentiments may be, there was a shocking omission: 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 has 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 by Hizbullah in an unprovoked aggression. The casus belli that triggered the war on July 12 - after six years of 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 four others were killed. Everyone recognized that Israel was the attacked party: the G8, the UN, the EU and even Saudi Arabia unequivocally identified Hizbullah 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 launched from Lebanese territory against a sovereign neighboring country. Certainly, Lebanon, as a country, did not attack Israel. Hizbullah did. But Hizbullah is an armed militia 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 firm support for Hizbullah throughout the period of hostilities, conveniently forgetting his obligation to disarm Hizbullah, as required by UN Resolution 1559, which was passed two years earlier. The regular Lebanese army also cooperated with Hizbullah on more than one occasion. Therefore, holding Lebanon to be a squeaky clean victim of aggression is also obscene.

Whatever the legal responsibility of Hizbullah and Lebanon in the war, Israel was certainly the victim of aggression. Not only did the participants in the Stockholm Conference never raise this issue, but 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, "Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon must demand accountability from their aggressors.... For Lebanon, a possible solution resides in the immediate cancellation of its debt and the establishment of funds for its reconstruction, which would be fed by reparations deposited by Israel."

Furthermore, CADTM suggested that the United States, as a backer of Israel, should also be liable for "reparations." They concluded with this pearl of Orwellian doublespeak: "It is only then that it will be possible to say that the Lebanese people will have received justice."

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 put "reparations" in its proper context. The issue of war reparations is covered in the 1907 Fourth Hague Convention and in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. More recently, the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) was set up to deal with Iraq, following its attack on Kuwait in 1991. Security Council Resolution 687, adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter, mentions that "Iraq... is liable under international law for any direct loss, damage... or injury to foreign Governments, nationals and corporations, as a result of Iraq's unlawful invasion... of Kuwait."

Chapter VII deals with "threats to peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression." Iraq was forced to accept all the provisions of Resolution 687. Similar action should have been taken against Hizbullah for the damage inflicted on Israel's civilian areas, but 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 Israeli 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, including those elements of Lebanese society that have not been tainted by Hizbullah, i.e. Christians, Druzes, Sunnis and possibly a portion of the Shi'a population, and launch a combined claim for war reparations from Hizbullah's supporters - Syria and, especially, Iran.

This approach would have many advantages that were not apparent in the ill-conceived Stockholm Conference:

1) A claim for war reparations would be a powerful deterrent to aggressive "adventurism," as the Saudi foreign minister characterized the Hizbullah attack. Leaving military aggressors financially unscathed encourages further aggression.

2) Creating a multi-billion dollar lien against Iran would be welcomed by the international community, now that sanctions are envisaged against Iran for the non-fulfillment of its nuclear obligations.

3) The creation of such a joint Israeli-Lebanese body will be a positive sign of collaboration between Israeli and Arab civil societies. There is no territorial dispute between Lebanon and Israel, notwithstanding the phony issue of the Shebaa Farms. This initiative should be welcomed by all Sunni Arabs, who are now more scared of Iran than they are of Israel.

None of the above was on 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 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 and the "constraints imposed on the Palestinians."

It would have taken a volley of Kassam rockets crashing through the entrance of the Stockholm Conference hall to give those donors a bitter taste of reality.