Reconstructing Lebanon

High Expectations

Despite the stationing of UN troops in Lebanon the population still has no confidence in the peacekeeping capacity. And also the leadership in Beirut comes under increasing pressure since the Lebanese people are waiting for government action to rebuild the country. Bernhard Hillenkamp reports

"This decision comes 40 years too late," comments Ghassan Tueni, one of the fathers of Lebanese journalism, on the decision of the Lebanese government to send its army into south Lebanon. Little by little, 15,000 soldiers with Lebanese insignias are being stationed south of the Litani River.

Israel is withdrawing from southern Lebanon. Gradually the reinforcement of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is following, which, under UN Resolution 1701, is to help the Lebanese government enforce state authority.

Scepticism prevails

As soon as 5,000 of the 15,000 UN forces are stationed in the south and Hezbollah observes the cease-fire, Israel will withdraw from its remaining positions in Lebanon.

Although some of the population welcomed the first national and international troops with rice and shouts of joy, many look into the future with concern.

They do not have confidence in the peacekeeping capacity of the UNIFIL. They recall scenes during the Israeli invasion in 1982, when the tanks of the Jewish state rolled by the UNIFIL troops that had been stationed there since 1978.

The delayed UN intervention during the last war casts a bad light on this international organization for many. Skeptics also criticized the Israeli army's heavy overflights. Despite the UNIFIL presence, southern Lebanon was at the mercy of the Israeli military for a long time.

The Hezbollah challenge

However, the restructuring in the south will not succeed without the foreign troops and the strengthened UN mandate, according to optimists. The UNIFIL is armed and the mandate has been extended. Under Resolution 1701, the troops are to support the Lebanese army with modern equipment.

But "the disarming of Hezbollah is not the business of the UNIFIL. It is a Lebanese matter and should be settled at the national level," French UNIFIL Commander Alain Pellegrini told reporters. Monitoring the borders and disarming all groups is part of the resolution, but that is the responsibility of the Lebanese government.

An analysis of the developments since the outbreak of the war reveals that Hezbollah has made many compromises. Until the war began, the party resisted a Lebanese army presence in the south. The UN resolution and the government's decision to send the army to the border created a new reality.

In the region south of the Litani, the possibilities for military confrontation are severely limited. Kidnapping of soldiers and shelling of Israeli positions have become virtually impossible for the "Party of God." As the visit by the French Defense Minister demonstrates, the international community will build up the obsolete Lebanese army.

Political reorientation

The political point of departure has also changed as a result of the war. Although Hezbollah is benefiting from a wave of solidarity and its resistance against the Israeli army is widely supported, some voices are critical of "the divine victory," as it is called in the language of the party.

The Shiite Mufti of Tyre, Al-Sayyid Ali Amin, criticizes the decision for a further round of confrontations in July of 2006. He believes "that the attitude within the Shiite community will change in favor of the government."

By harking back to the abducted Shiite scholar Musa al-Sadr, who put the state at the center of his political theory, the Mufti assumes that governmental institutions will have a stronger role in the postwar era.

The second Shiite party has apparently reoriented itself as well. The Lebanese Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, did not agree to the Party of God's demand that the government be reshuffled.

Berri endorses the policy of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who wants to expand the role of the central government in the south with the support of the international community.

International humanitarian aid

But the Lebanese army must not only monitor the south; the next challenge will be the reconstruction. The return of the refugees to southern Lebanon went smoothly. Now the 150,00 destroyed houses, many of them in the south, must be rebuilt, the bridges repaired, and the water and electricity supply restored.

The Party of God is distributing US$ 12,000 to families whose homes were destroyed. "The party organized the payments to those affected quickly and efficiently. Otherwise, party loyalty and the mood in general would plummet," says a critic who wants to remain anonymous. Many assume that Iran is the source of the money.

Other nonmilitary support also comes from abroad. Several Arab states have undertaken the complete reconstruction of some villages. Qatar wants to rebuild Bint Jbeil, and Yemen will reconstruct Burj al-Shamali. Large international NGOs are set to go.

As was the case after the Israeli retreat in 2000, when groups financed by the US government carried out development projects in competition with Hezbollah, the goodwill and political loyalty of the south Lebanese are also being solicited following this war. The role and authority of the government are viewed with a certain amount of skepticism.

When questioned about his hopes for the government, Dr. Ali Hejazi, Hezbollah sympathizer and mayor of Dibbin in south Lebanon, answers, "It is like in the Bible; we want to see deeds – like Thomas wanted to put his hands in Jesus' wounds."

The people are waiting for the government's actions and want results. Expectations are high, and the demands are great. The stationing of troops can only be the first step.

Bernhard Hillenkamp

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Phyllis Anderson

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