The Seven Villages

Most of us following Middle East news or Lebanon news know a few things about Hezbollah: it emerged in the early 1980’s during the heyday of the Lebanese civil war; its external allies are Iran and Syria; it is likely the strongest and best-trained armed group in Lebanon right now, on par or surpassing the Lebanese army itself; and because of this, it claims to be Lebanon’s stalwart and necessary defender against Israeli aggressions. Many of us are also aware that Hezbollah has established several conditions in order for it to voluntarily disarm its military wing.   Briefly, until 2000, the main condition for its military existence was the occupation of southern Lebanon by Israel.   Following Israel’s redeployment outside of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah emphasized the fact that it had to maintain its military character as the Shebaa Farms, a fertile parcel of land of about 22 km² (8 sq mi) remained occupied by Israel.  (For the sake of a more complete picture, I should also add that Hezbollah cites the regular violations of Lebanon’s airspace by Israeli fighter jets as  another reason for it to keep its arms). 

In the past few months, Hezbollah officials have begun citing if not an entirely new demand, then certainly a less frequently-branded one.  I’m talking about the territorial claim over “The Seven Villages”.  Heard about it? I hadn’t.  It seems that there are seven villages and twenty farms lying just within Israel’s northern border, and which Lebanon has historically claimed as Lebanese, albeit with much less fanfare than its other grievances against Israel.   Nicholas Blanford, a Beirut-based journalist and author of a book on the Hariri assassination that I haven’t quite finished_reading_yet , has a 17-page  study posted on the Now Lebanon website in which he explains the “Seven Villages” demand.

The study is quite an intriguing historical review of the events, negotiations, communications and most crucially, cartography, done by the British and French in the early 1920’s, along with a description of the Zionists’ involvement in these interactions. I highly recommend reading Blanford’s paper, but for those who are eager for the punch line of the story, Blanford concludes that the Seven Villages should have been included in the Lebanese state created by the French.  However, he predicts that raising this issue of re-drawing the borders of northern Israel/southern Lebanon might open the door for Israel to make demands of its own regarding territory it thinks should be part of Israel.   Although Blanford does not expressly say it, his implicit suggestion here seems to be that Lebanon should drop any claims it might have on the Seven Villages because this would complicate any peace talks with Israel.  He specifies that because Lebanon’s past behaviour suggests that it has tacitly accepted its present borders, Israel is unlikely to concede the concerned territories. 

I might be incorrect in interpreting Blanford’s last paragraphs as I have, however, I cannot help but think of two of the most elementary rules of any negotiation:  1)  if you don’t ask for something, you’re no likely to get it; and 2) always ask for more than what you think you will or can get.  In this vein, although I recognize that the idea of incorporating the Seven Villages into Lebanon is quite illusory,  I would never recommend that a party relinquish some of its demands before negotiations even begin simply because it might complicate the bargaining, or because the other party might retaliate with its own demands.  Why not keep the Seven Villages on the list of items to be negotiated with Israel, and use them as bargaining chips for obtaining something that might be more of a priority to Lebanon, like the Shebaa Farms?   For the time being though, it’s safest to say that the Seven Villages are just an added element to what Blanford aptly calls the “psychological warfare” between Hezbollah and Israel.