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UN Security Council Resolution 1701 halted the month-long fighting between Israel and Hizbollah but did little to resolve the underlying conflict and, if poorly handled, could help reignite it. The resolution has held remarkably well, with only limited violations. However, the temptation by either party to overreach could trigger renewed fighting. The greatest threats would be attempts by Israel or UN forces (UNIFIL) to use 1701 as a blunt means of disarming Hizbollah in the south or by Hizbollah to test UNIFIL’s resolve.
Lebanon has badly lost its balance and is at risk of new collapse, moving ever closer to explosive Sunni-Shiite polarisation with a divided, debilitated Christian community in between. The fragile political and sectarian equilibrium established since the end of its bloody civil war in 1990 was never a panacea and came at heavy cost. It depended on Western and Israeli acquiescence in Syria’s tutelage and a domestic system that hindered urgently needed internal reforms, and change was long overdue.
When Israeli-Palestinian permanent status negotiations resume, a key stumbling block is likely to be the Palestinian refugee question. The plight of the refugees and the demand that their right of return be recognised has been central to the Palestinian struggle since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Palestinians warn that a dissatisfied, angry refugee community whose core demands remain unmet could undermine any peace agreement. For their part, Israelis reject any significant return of refugees, which would spell the end of the Jewish state.
Hamas’s takeover of Gaza and President Abbas’s dismissal of the national unity government and appointment of one led by Salam Fayyad amount to a watershed in the Palestinian national movement’s history. Some paint a positive picture, seeing the new government as one with which Israel can make peace. They hope that, with progress in the West Bank, stagnation in Gaza and growing pressure from ordinary Palestinians, a discredited Hamas will be forced out or forced to surrender. They are mistaken.