Article 1 of Lebanon’s Constitution asserts that it is “an independent, indivisible, and sovereign state.” It describes its frontiers to the north, east and south – as well as the Mediterranean to the west. Nonetheless, Lebanon’s borders with Israel and Syria are in fact neither resolved on the ground nor agreed legally.
The history of efforts to demarcate Lebanon’s borders is confused. On 23 December 1920 British and French authorities in Palestine and Lebanon established a joint border committee, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Newcomb (Britain) and Paulet (France), which agreed in February 1922 the demarcation of Lebanon’s borders with Palestine fixing 71 points on the ground. The French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon also undertook to delimit the boundaries between Lebanon and Syria, but only completed around 80 per cent of the demarcation.
Following Lebanese independence in the 1940s, Beirut and Damascus failed to take steps to jointly demarcate their common border. Today, discussions over Lebanon’s border with Israel refer to three different historical boundaries: the 1922 line; the 1949 ‘Green Line’ – part of the Truce agreement reached between Israel and its neighbours following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war; and the 2000 ‘Blue Line’ – determined by the UN in relation to Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.
Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, then Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban declared that Israel would not be bound by any conditions of the 1949 Truce. In 1978 Israel occupied part of southern Lebanon, declaring it a “security zone”. It did not vacate it for the next 22 years, rejecting the requirement of UN Security Resolution (UNSCR) 425 (1978) to withdraw to Lebanon’s “internationally recognised boundaries.” When Israel finally did pull out in May 2000, the new UN Blue Line did not correspond either to Newcomb-Paulet or to the 1949 Truce.
Consideration of Lebanon’s borders must include the northern part of the village of Ghajar, which sits on the Syrian-Lebanese border, the Kfar-Shuba Hills and the Chebaa Farms, key areas along Lebanon’s border which remain disputed with Israel and are points of friction between Lebanon, Israel and Syria. Today, there are thirty-six points of disagreement between Syria and Lebanon concerning the border, the most significant of which is in the central zone around Deir al-Ashayer.
These ambiguities over Lebanon’s borders with Israel and Syria mean that Lebanese sovereignty has always been violated, leading to border disputes and violent clashes – not least the 2006 war.