Friday, July 28, 2006

What Ceasefire, Condi?

Yesterday the world was informed all the way from the comfort of Rome, where a conference on the conflict between Israel and Lebanon is being held, that world leaders had been unable to agree on calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon. In the end, while most of the world asked for one, the United States, Israel’s backer, said no. And when the U.S. says no, the entire world grinds to a halt. Hell, the powers that be couldn’t even agree on a communiqué which would have reprimanded Israel for its killing two days ago of four U.N. observers in Lebanon, including a Canadian.

But wasn’t the entire Rome conference a foregone conclusion to begin with? What peace conference can rightly call itself that when three of the four players involved in the conflict—Israel, Iran and Syria—are not invited at the table? Or when one of the attendees is a U.S. secretary of state who throughout the ordeal hasn’t even attempted to conceal her pro-Israel slant (and that of the government she serves)? At best, the conference was a stalling tactic to give Israel enough time to keep battering the Lebanese population. And as Israeli soldiers, who faced their deadliest 24 hours since the war began, get sucked into a war that cannot be won in Southern Lebanon, they will increasingly resort (out of frustration, out of hatred, out of a need to do something) to the next best thing: artillery bombing of civilian areas and the collective punishment of the Lebanese—just as they did in 1982, at a cost of 18,000 lives, mostly civilian.

What is needed—and it is needed now—is an honest attempt to address all the unresolved regional issues that gave rise to the conflict in the first place. And whether Israel and the U.S. like it or not, this will require the participation of Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority. Issues of sovereignty in Southern Lebanon (including the disputed Shebaa Farms), of factionalism within Lebanon, of Palestinians rights (to a viable state, to freedom from fear, to an end to military occupation) and of imbalance of power within the region need to be tackled, and this has to be done honestly and justly. Israel’s preoccupations with terrorism and security, however paranoid and grossly overestimated, nevertheless need to be addressed as well.

We simply cannot allow for a state to do whatever it wants (and this means using force both inside territory it occupies and across the border into sovereign states) at will, with impunity and effectively encouragement by Washington, which unconstructively seems to see the incursion into Lebanon as part of its grand strategy to defeat Terrorism. Washington’s position vis-à-vis Israel is so myopic and ultimately self-defeating as to defy explanation. The harm being done to Lebanon today is inexcusable and cannot but result in added hatred for U.S. policies. It is no coincidence that al-Qaeda has now called for a “Jihad” against Israel and its supporter. This, of course, is as misguided as is U.S. policy in the region, but such communiqués nevertheless are symptomatic of the level of frustration that exists in the Arab world, a frustration that lies mostly in a sense of powerlessness in the face of Israeli-American might.

The U.S. strategy for the Middle East has to be revised. Otherwise, Bush’s dream of recreating the Middle East in his image (an impossible and presumptuous task to begin with) will go up in flames.

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