After Rome: An Emerging Consensus on Lebanon and Hezbollah

AMSTERDAM -- At one point during the press conference that followed Wednesday's high-level meeting in Rome, Condoleezza Rice raised a hand to her face and ran it across her forehead. She knew the world's cameras were trained on her and the image might put a dent in her carefully cultivated image as an unflinchingly cool diplomat facing a tough international crisis. Analysts had already declared that the meeting - designed to find a solution to the war in Lebanon and Israel - had ended in failure. Indeed, the negotiators did not reach consensus on how to stop the fighting.

And yet, a crucial consensus has now been reached throughout the world. The views of the overwhelming majority of the world's nations and the relevant international organizations now include a very clear picture of how the end of this conflict should look. That picture looks strikingly similar to the one Israel has described from the first days of this awful war.

Analysis of the Rome meeting focused on the differences between the American position and pretty much everybody else's. The US wants a full agreement for removing Hezbollah from the border reached before a ceasefire goes into effect. Everyone else wants the shooting to stop immediately and the details to be settled afterwards. The US agrees with the Israeli view that once the fighting stops the rest of the plan will lose urgency. In the end, the radical Islamists of Hezbollah could end up staying on the border, fully armed, and ready to once again begin killing Israelis, as they have done continuously during the six years since Israeli forces left southern Lebanon. (There is no guarantee, of course, that Hezbollah would stop shooting even in the short term if Israel agreed to a ceasefire. But that detail was not discussed.) Without agreement on when to halt Israel's fire, the meeting ended.

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