Israel not forced to withdraw from Shabaa

Sunday, August 13, 2006 |  by Staff Writer
In a last minute diplomatic maneuver, Israel was able to remove a demand by the Lebanese government to relinquish control of the Shabba farms and hand it over to the United Nations. Later it would be given to whoever the Secretary General decides: Syria or Lebanon.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected the proposal outright and clarified that Israel sees the Shabaa Farms as part of the Golan Heights belonging to Syria and not Lebanon. In addition Olmert said that even if he had a desire to withdraw from Shabaa, he does not have a majority in the Knesset for the move, as according to the Golan Heights Law, the decision must be approved by at least 61 Knesset Members or a referendum.

The dispute over the Shaba Farms almost derailed the entire agreement. Ultimately, a creative compromise was reached that solved the problem: The United States promised Israel that the future fate of the Shabaa farms will be decided in future negotiations between Israel and whoever the UN decides are the rightful owners of the land.

In response to the agreement between Israel and the US, an amendment was inserted saying that the Security Council is asking the Secretary General to decide within 30 days on the final borders of Lebanon, including the area of the Shabaa Farms.

Diplomatic officials say that this is an achievement for Israel and that the US had promised Israel they will not be forced to withdraw from Shabaa. Having said that, officials say that if the Secretary General decides that the land does indeed belong to Lebanon, or conversely will reach a Syrian understanding that the land must be given to Lebanon, Israel will consider that.

So what are the Shabba Farms? The farms are a strip of land 14 kilometers long and two kilometers wide in the area of Mt. Dov in the northwestern corner of the Golan Heights. Lebanon is arguing that the land belongs to them, therefore Israel's withdrawal is not complete. Hizballah has justified its actions in southern Lebanon with the Israeli presence in Shabba. In the past, items were published saying that the Hizballah had agreed to allow the Lebanese army to deploy in southern Lebanon if Israel withdrew from Shabaa. Israel, on the other hand, claims that the land belongs to Syria and is an integral part of the Golan Heights.

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