Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ending the Cycle of Violence in Middle East

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Tragedies in history are repeated, because we don’t learn from our mistakes. The world has witnessed so many holocausts since the dawn of time. Empires grow, weaken and die for the same reasons. They decline when they reach a certain level of arrogance and ignorance. That is when they look down on smaller and weaker nations, and stop listening to their opinions, complaints and criticism. This has been the case from the ancient civilizations of China, Iraq and Egypt, to colonial era of European powers, to the new age of Soviet Union and USA.
We have already repeated our mistakes in the Greater Middle East from Afghanistan to Iraq, Palestine to Lebanon, and now Iran. So, before going further on the repetition course, let’s take a timeout for reflection on the latest crisis — the Lebanon war.
It is tough to be evenhanded and balanced when your own family is being slaughtered to pieces. Still, I learned a couple of valuable lessons from some Israeli writers and journalists, who, in the midst of a maddening war, were sane, fair and courageous enough to expose the fallacies and wrongs of their government. Against popular emotional stands, they strived to get their criticism across. Time proved them right, and more Israelis are now having doubts and questions about long-held beliefs and strategies, as we all should.
Israel has a natural right to live in peace. Arabs must show their unsure neighbor that there is light at the end of the tunnel. No nation in a strong position will ever part with war-gained spoils unless they get something solid in return. For even the most pacifist Israelis, it is not reasonable to give concessions without rewards. We must guarantee them peaceful and friendlier neighborhood.
I agreed with many of my Israeli counterparts that King Abdullah’s peace initiative, sponsored by the Arab League in 2002, should be the blueprint for comprehensive peace project. It is based on UN Resolution 242 and accommodates Israeli demands for border adjustments and some concerns regarding return of refugees.
Unfortunately, the last Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded to this historical grand Arab gesture by bombing late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, destroying Jenin and pressuring the US administration to change its initial support of the initiative. He and his like won the day. We all, Arabs, Israelis and peace seekers all over the world, lost.
They say Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, but so are Israelis, especially the rightists. There were times, with the last Labor government, when we were on the verge of real victory for all — peace. The Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations brought all players — Palestinians, Israelis and neighbors to the negotiation table. It worked, till Arafat made a historical mistake of refusing an admittedly inadequate deal instead of negotiating changes. The Israeli opposition refused it, too, and vowed to defeat it. To kill the project in its infancy, Sharon provoked the second intifada by booting the grounds of Islam’s third holiest shrine — Al-Aqsa. After winning the elections, he made sure the project was buried forever.
For long, Lebanon has been the playground of many recurring mistakes. The Lebanese, Syrians, Arabs, Americans and French committed terrible mistakes. Israel was the worst. The invasion of 1982 and the occupation of parts of Lebanon for eighteen years destroyed the capability of the Lebanese Army, justified the interference of other players, like Syria, Iraq and Iran, and gave birth to the resistance movement of Hezbollah.
The latest Israeli invasion and bombardment of its northern neighbor doesn’t look like the last mistake. Instead of eradicating the Hezbollah, Israel weakened the very government which was supposed to disarm the group, and the very people it tried to turn against it, not to mention the radicalization of the whole region. Iran and its protégé only dreamt of the status they now enjoy in the Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia. By violating the terms of the cease-fire, Israel is on course to repeat history once more.
The Arabs and Israelis should, instead, use the lesson of this tragic event to restart the project of peace, cooperation and prosperity for this long-troubled part of the world. The terrible loss of lives and economic potentials should make us aware of the downhill journey we are taking.
Only via the road to peace can we turn around the Lebanon corner. If leaders are not yet ready to make the move, then it is our responsibility, the peoples of the region, to make them be. After all, it is our children’s future we are talking about.

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