Ephraim Sneh
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
May 28, 2008 - 6:18pm

Amid the excitement of the latest events - including the announcement of negotiations with Syria and the developments in the latest Olmert corruption scandal - not enough attention was paid to the most significant event of last week: the fall of Lebanon in oil-rich Qatar.

In negotiations that took place under the sponsorship of the Qatari ruler, the Lebanese government surrendered to the demands of Hizbullah and Syria: the pro-Syrian military chief General Michel Suleiman was nominated for the presidency, Hizbullah would appoint a third of cabinet ministers (11 out of 30), Fuad Saniora would no longer remain prime minister, and Hizbullah's demands for the renewed division of voting areas so as to enhance its parliament representation in the next election was also approved.

Under Lebanese law, a third of government ministers have veto power on every decision. The moment 11 ministers are Hizbullah members, every decision made in Lebanon has to first be approved by Teheran and Damascus.

What brought all parties to the negotiating table in Qatar was the latest round of violence in Beirut and northern Lebanon initiated by Hizbullah, which led to the deaths of dozens of citizens. Iranian terror in the region was victorious once again.

Vis-à-vis Israel, the deal essentially spells the end of UN Resolution 1701. It also means that our achievements in the Second Lebanon War have been wrecked. Now, the Lebanese Army in the south of the country, meant to distance Hizbullah from Israel's borders, will receive orders from a Hizbullah-led government. UNIFIL's presence will be at that government's behest.

Syria made an important achievement last week. It brought Lebanon back under its control. The timing of the announcement of Turkish-mediated negotiations with Israel alleviated and, in fact, deflected international criticism from Syria. World leaders who did not support Saniora praised the capitulation agreement he signed.

Last week's events worsened Israel's strategic position and handed Iran yet another victory. The need for military readiness for another round of fighting in the North has not lessened. On the contrary. There is no more comfortable way for Iran to sabotage Israeli-Syrian negotiations than to fan the flames on the Israel-Lebanon border.

I WRITE THESE words from Bethlehem where I was invited to attend the Palestinian Investors Convention, though not as a potential investor. Over 1,200 business people from the West Bank, Gaza and the Gulf States attended the event. Security arrangements under the responsibility of Palestinian Authority security forces were effective and professional. Palestinian companies delivered their presentations with professionalism on an international scale. On Thursday afternoon, the foreign investment deals that were signed passed the $1 billion mark. However, even before one job is created in the West Bank, it can be said that the convention's biggest achievement was its mere existence.

I met with PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, who initiated the convention and remains the main reason for its success. He proved that under his leadership, the West Bank is becoming a place in which investors are prepared to conduct business. Security forces that were deployed in Jenin and Nablus - and who reached Bethlehem to secure the convention - significantly changed the face of personal security and public order. The convention was a show of force against Hamas. A non-violent show of force proving that modernism and economic development trumps Hamas' dark terrorism.

Though the event did receive some media coverage in Israel, I regret that no other Israeli MK, no other Israeli official and none of the media's Arab affairs correspondents were present. I did meet a small number of Israeli businessmen who decided to break through for the sake of economic cooperation.

Things are happening on the other side of the fence, and in Israel no one is listening. If we strengthen the Palestinian economy and help it develop - and we are capable of doing so - we will essentially be strengthening the moderates and those who oppose terror. Therefore, I dismiss the term "a gesture to the Palestinians" when referring to the dismantling of a roadblock or as a step toward strengthening the Palestinian economy as nonsense. Such acts first and foremost serve Israel's interests.


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