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The Lebanon Test

A 33-day war has left Lebanon with no winners and many losers. The civilian populations -- both Israelis and Lebanese -- paid the heaviest toll. But perhaps this tragedy can be turned toward opportunity.

We are on the right track to seize a rare chance to change the status quo for the better in a crucial part of the Middle East. If fully implemented by the international community, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 will help in protecting both Israel's territorial security and the future of a fragile Arab democracy. The foundations for better management of the entire Middle Eastern crisis will then have been set.

Passing the difficult Lebanon test means creating a win-win situation for the Lebanese, the Israelis and the region as a whole. Realizing what is at stake, Italy is seriously committed to its solution -- with humanitarian assistance as well as with a generous offer of troops (3,000) for the new Unifil mission.

What is required to pass the Lebanese test? First, of course, the Lebanese army and the international peacekeeping force, working together in a consistent and sustainable way, must be able to guarantee Lebanon's full sovereignty over its territory. For the central government to gradually acquire the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the armed militias of Hezbollah will have to disband. This will also benefit Israel's security. Especially after the recent conflict, Israel has to realize that it cannot rely solely on national military resources for its security. And, in fact, Israel has welcomed the deployment of a sizable international force -- incidentally, without U.S. presence on the ground but with European troops and command. The second related step, thus, will be making sure that Israel achieves enhanced security through political agreements with its neighbors, guaranteed by the U.N. and by multinational forces -- an approach to be possibly extended to the Gaza front. Israeli's lifting of the blockade would help humanitarian relief and mutual confidence.

Thirdly, Hezbollah has to evolve into a purely political and nonviolent movement. Hezbollah has a terrorist track record. It has an armed militia. But it is not a terrorist or militarized organization only. In Lebanon, it is also a political movement, solidly rooted in the Shiite communities, and a main provider of social services. The Lebanese themselves will have to agree on Hezbollah maintaining only the latter role. Hassan Nasrallah's recent self-criticism about the consequences of the war demonstrates the limits of a strategy based on violence.

This crisis did not happen in a vacuum, and the Lebanon test will have to be passed regionally as well as locally. The states and peoples of the Middle East should be consistently encouraged to become responsible stakeholders in the security realm. We welcomed the participation of many Middle East governments to the July 26 Rome Conference on Lebanon, which set the stage for the successive diplomatic initiatives.

Syria, in particular, must choose between being a cooperative stakeholder (by complying with Resolution 1701) or self-isolation.

Resolution 1701 vindicates the assumption that multilateralism can be effective only when the U.S. and Europe are equally interested and willing in making the U.N. work. By offering 7,000 troops to the enhanced Unifil mission, Europe has spelled out its commitment. For the first time Europe takes full responsibility for a security role in the Middle East. After having long been a "payer" of economic assistance, the EU shows willingness to become a "player." This very fact will change the perceptions of Europe's role in the region.

Since the very beginning Italy has fully supported participation in the enhanced Unifil mission, high risks and costs notwithstanding. We trusted (correctly as it turned out) that Europe -- France first -- would eventually be on board, with troops, political commitment and economic aid. But, I wish to add, we would not have reached such a positive result without the very active engagement of the U.S. In a complete reversal of the 2003 divisions on Iraq, not only have America and Europe joined efforts toward a shared goal, but American diplomacy has paved the way for Europe's military engagement in a difficult peacekeeping operation blessed by the U.N.

It is high time for a similar trans-Atlantic joint venture on the Israeli-Palestinian front: The tragic situation in Gaza shows the need for such an active international engagement. The Palestinian question remains at the core of Middle East instability. It is not the only problem, and Sept. 11 highlighted a much wider threat -- but it is a key part of the problem. Moreover, after 2001, the nationalist Palestinian agenda has been hijacked by fundamentalist terrorism, and indirectly continues to fuel it. After more than three years in Iraq, we must acknowledge that Jerusalem cannot be reached via Baghdad. Since leaving the Palestinian question unresolved has made things more difficult also elsewhere, the opposite might help.

The implementation of Resolution 1701 will be a crucial test for all of us. If we succeed, this will create new momentum for seriously addressing the 60-year-old Palestinian issue -- the sooner the better, for all parties involved.

Mr. D'Alema is foreign minister of Italy.

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