First you’re down, then you’re up, then you’re down again. ‘That’s the story of, that’s the glory of’ Israeli-Arab peace. Way back in the Dark Ages of the Cold War the Union of Concerned Scientists maintained a Doomsday clock that represented the imminent possibility of nuclear conflict. It seemed that the hands of the clock were always hovering somewhere near midnight.
Someone should revive this concept regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict as it seems that it is a tinder box just waiting to cause a potential world wide conflagration. The Lebanon war brought us to five minutes to midnight. The ceasefire set the hands back to ten minutes to midnight. But today’s news that France, which was supposed to lead the UNIFIL contingent enforcing the UN ceasefire in Lebanon, will only contribute 200 additional troops to the effort has brought that minute hand forward by at least a minute or two.
What completely befuddles me about France’s decision is that they wrote the damn UN ceasefire resolution. They led the world to believe that they would lead the peacekeeping contingent. What the hell happened? Are they unhappy with the terms because of Hezbollah’s refusal to disarm? If so, didn’t they think this might be a possibility when they signed on unofficially to lead peace efforts? Are they angling for some further concession from one side in the conflict or another? I just don’t get it.
It seems to bode ill for the future of the entire peacekeeping enterprise. If France won’t lead, who will? The U.S.? Don’t get me started on that one.
There have been murmurs from Israeli policymakers that the nation should take the bull by the horns and begin serious negotiations with Syria with an eye to forestall future conflicts between the two nations and between Hezbollah and Israel. This certainly sets back the hands of the clock by at least 30 seconds.
I’ve already written here about Amir Peretz’s remarks on this subject. Yesterday, veteran Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar quoted an unnamed (they’re always unnamed when it comes to Israeli journalism) senior military source calling for a similar policy shift. The interview with the officer ranges over a number of issues regarding the war. It makes for interesting reading though one has to read it with one ear attuned to the somewhat self-serving nature of the comments which seek to point blame away from the IDF and toward the political echelon for the war’s failure:
The senior officer also directs questions concerning the length of the war, after it emerged that the army is indeed “hollow,” at the political arena. “When [United States] Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice came to Israel and went on to the Rome summit, and perhaps before that, by the G-8 meeting, we could have stopped the battle. At that point we could have obtained achievements on a number of matters without sending in ground forces.
“At that stage [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah was surprised and [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora was asking for a cease-fire. Had we been more modest and attentive, we would not have had to face what happened afterward. But our people transformed the concept of time into something fluid, and we missed the opportunity to exploit the achievements of the air campaign to the fullest. We also did not see to it that parallel to the military campaign, a diplomatic campaign would also get underway. We should have created an international understanding that it is necessary to deal with Iran and Syria diplomatically and to recruit the world’s support for Siniora to come out against Hezbollah.”
In order to ensure that a crushed Lebanon does not fall like ripe fruit into the hands of Iran, the senior officer proposes that tomorrow morning Israel call upon the free world to declare a Marshall Plan to rehabilitate Lebanon. “We have to be the generator, in order to ensure that Iran does not pour in money and take over the country. Had we acted in this way from the start, instead of showing up raring to fight, Rice would have come here with the idea of rehabilitating Lebanon and strengthening its moderate elements.”
With all the respect he has for the Americans, the senior officer has reservations about their total boycott of Syria.
“We must talk with the Syrians. This is the United States’ opportunity to bring about a turnaround in Iraq. Syria can become a positive axis, but in our neighborhood no leader takes a bold step before he is convinced of its success. Look at [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. It is a pity that in the territories we missed quite a few opportunities to build a coalitions with the pragmatic forces. But the Palestinians have learned from the events in Lebanon that they don’t interest anybody and that we are taking blows and not going anywhere. The time has come for us to look ahead and stop interfering with the middle generation in leading the Palestinian renewal.”
The Marshall Plan is not a new idea by any means. Shimon Peres has been talking along similar lines for years. My 9th grade teacher reminds me that I was even talking about this concept in the 1980s as a way for Israel to turn the tide with the Palestinians and create prosperous economic zone for both peoples. It’s a nice idea, very nice. But how practical and how likely is it to actually happen? Not a chance in hell. The mood in Israel is far too sullen to advance such a proposal seriously. And why wouldn’t Lebanon scoff at the idea unless it were accompanied by a profound Israeli apology for the havoc it wrought there? And how likely do we really think such an apology might be?
But events within Palestine appear to be going in a positive direction moving that Doomsday clock hands back another 30 seconds. Ismail Haniye and Mahmoud Abbas have reached agreement on a coalition government containing 13 senior cabinet portfolios divided seven for Hamas and 6 for Fatah. They are hoping that this will place more pressure on the world community to recognize this government as legitimate and pressure Israel to being serious negotiations with it. Well, really with Abbas, who will represent the Palestinians in such talks by prior agreement with Hamas.
This will not meet Israeli demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce terror and accept Oslo and other accords signed by previous PA administrations. Which means that stalemate is likely to continue unless some power (George, Condi–are you listening?) or international body can break such a logjam.
In today’s NY Times, Scott Atran published an interesting proposal that the U.S. and Israel break out of their past negative frame of mind toward Hamas and the Palestinians. He also interviewed the most senior Palestinian leadership to detect how serious their interest in peace is:
A bold gesture now by Israel would surprise its adversaries, convey strength, and even catch domestic political opposition off guard. And as strange as it may seem, were the United States able to help Israel help Hamas, it might turn the rising tide of global Muslim resentment.
Recent discussions I’ve had with Hamas leaders and their supporters around the globe indicate that Israel might just find a reasonable and influential bargaining partner.
Hamas’s top elected official, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, now accepts that to stop his people’s suffering, his government must forsake its all-or-nothing call for Israel’s destruction. “We have no problem with a sovereign Palestinian state over all our lands within the 1967 borders, living in calm,” Mr. Haniya told me in his Gaza City office in late June, shortly before an Israeli missile destroyed it. “But we need the West as a partner to help us through.”
Mr. Haniya’s government had just agreed to a historic compromise with Fatah and its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, forming a national coalition that implicitly accepts the coexistence alongside Israel. But this breakthrough was quickly overshadowed by Israel’s offensive into Gaza in retaliation for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, by Palestinian militants, including members of Hamas’s military wing.
He includes an interview with one of Hamas’ most senior and respected prisoners serving time in an Israeli prison. The moderation of his perspective is striking. For Israel to refuse to notice or acknowledge it is a dire mistake:
Prime Minster Haniya and many of Hamas’s other Sunni leaders are known to be uncomfortable with the loose coalition that Mr. Meshal has been forging with Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. Hasan Yusuf, a Hamas official held in Israel’s Ketziot prison, doesn’t think President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran’s declaration that the main solution to the Middle East crisis is for the elimination of the “Zionist regime” is practical or wise. “The outcome in Lebanon doesn’t change our view,” Mr. Yusuf informed me last weekend. “We believe in two states living side by side.”
He also said that “all Hamas factions have agreed to a unilateral cease-fire, including halting Qassam rockets; the movement is ready to go farther if it receives any encouraging responses from Israel and the West.”
But even moderate Hamas figures feel that as long as Israel, the United States and Europe boycott the elected government in Gaza and the West Bank, there is little choice but to accept whatever help [from Iran, etc.] comes along.
This is doubly unfortunate. While Mr. Meshal says Islam allows only a long-term truce with Israel, Hamas officials closer to Prime Minister Haniya believe that a formal peace deal is possible, especially if negotiations can begin out of the spotlight and proceed by degrees.
“You can’t expect us to take off all of our clothes at once,” one Hamas leader told me, “or we’ll be naked in the cold, like Arafat in his last years.” This official said that if Hamas moved too fast, it would alienate its base, but if his government continued to be isolated, the base would radicalize. “Either way, you could wind up with a bunch of little Al Qaedas.”
And here is further moderation directly from Haniye himself:
Prime Minister Haniya’s position comes down to this: “We need you, as you need us.” For the United States and Europe, the stakes are also high. Mr. Haniya wants Americans and Europeans to recognize that the region has welcomed Hamas’s election to power as a genuine exercise in democracy.
If America were to engage his government, he believes, it would be the West’s best opportunity to reverse its steep decline in the esteem of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. “We need a dialogue of civilizations,” he said, “not a clash of civilizations.”
Another senior world Islamic leader speaks similarly moderate sentiments:
Khurshid Ahmad, a senator in Pakistan and leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the world’s oldest and most important Islamist movements, recently told me that if Hamas accepted a two-state solution, “with both Palestine and Israel having full economic, political and military sovereignty over their pre-1967 territories, and with Palestinians allowed into Palestine and Jews into Israel, then I would recommend this solution to the entire Muslim community.”
For Israel do continue ignoring such important statements from the Arab world embracing compromise in resolving the conflict constitutes something close to criminal political negligence. It would be a fitting monument to the dead on both sides of the most recent war if they both ‘got religion’ and realized they needed to get serious about peace instead of relying on posturing and hopeless military solutions.