Arabs Weigh In on Cease-Fire Resolution

The U.N. Security Council plans to meet with Arab envoys, who are demanding changes to a U.S.-French draft resolution on a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Turning now to the diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in the Middle East. A delegation of Arab foreign ministers is at the U.N. today, trying to make changes to a draft of a cease-fire plan and keep the hopes of a deal alive.

NPR's Jackie Northam is following this story. She joins us now. Jackie, can you tell us what happened, what the proposed cease-fire says now, and why Lebanon and the Arab League object to it?

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Well, the proposed resolution was crafted by France and the U.S. It calls for a truce, that the current United Nations peacekeeping force stay in Lebanon to monitor the border region, and it lays out a plan for permanent cease-fire, as well as a political settlement to this. The second phase involves setting up an international military force and really trying to get to the root problem of the conflict.

Now there are a few provisions in the proposal that caused a lot of concern in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East, and one of them regards the timing of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The provision says that Israeli troops remain in southern Lebanon until an international military force moves into the region to replace them. Lebanon and the Arab League say that's unacceptable, and that Israel must withdraw from Lebanon immediately after a cease-fire is in place and not wait until the international force is there. And the Arab delegation is trying to change that provision.

NORRIS: Now Lebanon has said that it will send 15,000 army troops to southern Lebanon once the Israeli soldiers move out. Why was that offer made, and what's the reaction from Israel?

NORTHAM: Well, the Lebanese government, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, made the offer yesterday. It provided few details but said its troops would work with U.N. forces once Israel's troops pull out. Lebanon didn't say anything about its soldiers alongside an international force, nor did it explicitly say whether Hezbollah would pull out of the border regions. But there's an understanding that Hezbollah agrees with this offer because the two ministers that are in the Lebanese government signed on to it.

There was, at best, a lukewarm response from Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was an interesting step that would be reviewed. What Israel really wants, though, Michele, is a robust fighting force to take over in southern Lebanon, one that has the ability and the willingness to contain Hezbollah, to stop weapon shipments and any attacks on Israel.

It considers the current U.N. force there to be weak, and it doesn't have a lot of confidence in the Lebanese army that it will be able to contain Hezbollah.

NORRIS: Any sign that France, the United States, or the rest of the Security Council will listen to the Arab League delegates?

NORTHAM: There's - certainly the Security Council is going to listen to what the Arab delegation has to say and what changes they'd like to see made to this draft resolution, but it's hard to say how far the Arab delegation will get. Yesterday, France's ambassador to the U.N. said that he felt that the resolution, as it stands now, is fine.

Today he's saying he'll take Lebanon's stance into account. So there might be a little step forward. It doesn't appear the delegation will have much impact with the U.S. President Bush said yesterday that the whole issue of the timetable for Israel's withdrawal was non-negotiable. But if something doesn't change, if this proposal isn't somehow massaged to satisfy both sides in this, it's hard to see how a cease-fire can take hold.

In other words, the security council can take this document, they can sign it, they can stamp it, they can shake hands, they can do whatever they want and say a cease-fire is in place, but if Lebanon and Hezbollah don't agree with some of these key provisions as to the timetable of Israel's withdrawal, it's hard to see how this cease-fire will happen.

NORRIS: Any idea when the Security Council will vote?

NORTHAM: Well, it's already delayed a day. It could happen tomorrow, Wednesday, maybe Thursday. We don't know yet.

NORRIS: Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Jackie Northam.

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