09/07/2006, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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A revamped Madrid Conference could transform the cease-fire into peace, says Father Jaeger

The world is rejoicing because the cease-fire in Lebanon seems to be holding, but for Fr David-Maria A. Jaeger, chairman of the cultural association 'Europe-Near East Centre' (ENEC) and keen observer of political and religious events in the Holy Land, the end of the hot war does not mean peace. That objective has one venue: the Madrid Conference. It was the only serious effort made by the international community to bring overall peace to the peoples of the region and must be reactivated.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – It is with a great sense of relief that one notes the "cessation  of hostilities" on Lebanese soil, and the arrival there of the international troops, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Both the Lebanese and the Israelis are already actively engaged upon repairing the considerable damage done by the reciprocally destructive war, though - at the time of writing - prisoners are not yet back home, and the arrangements for stabilising the relative calm have not yet been completed. There is no necessary reason though not to suppose that these tasks too will soon be accomplished. Nothing, of course, will restore their lives to the dead, make the badly wounded whole again, take away the grief of those in mourning or remove the emotional and other heavy burdens from those destined to care for the wounded and damaged. And - which is the most distressing observation - no serious move seems afoot to ensure that it does not all happen again.

A "cessation of hostilities", a "cease-fire", or even an "armistice", are not peace - not even close. In fact, it is hard to find anyone on either side who does not actually believe that - after some time for the warring parties to recover, to re-build their arsenals, to hone their skills - there will not be another round, and then perhpas, another, and another....

The Israeli Prime Minister has already stated that "this is not the time" to negotiate peace with Syria, while the Lebanese Prime Minister has declared that his country "will be the last Arab country to make peace with Israel". And a little south of that border, the occupied Palestinian territories are still a scene of fire-fights, chaos and want, the list of victims growing daily. Most of all, there is no prospect for peace over there, none at all, in fact no positive prospects of any kind. The famous "road-map" is an archaeological exhibit, Israel's planned unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank has - inevitably - been itsefl withdrawn... Worst of all, the international community is basking in its modest achievement of enlarging the UN force for southern Lebanon ("UNIFIL 2") - although its mission is still imperfectly defined, and is being re-drawn, and restricted, daily - with no thought given to going beyond it, towards actual peace.  

Belief in the very possibility of peace seems to be lacking, and with it the vision, the courage, the foresight, to try for it.

So many seem simply content to wait - for the next major outbreak, perhaps for "UNIFIL 3"...

Peace, as the Catholic philosophical tradition holds, is in essence "tranquillitas ordinis"; an absence of hostilities, yes, but one that is the fruit of order. And it is long past due to put some order in the hugely disordered situation in, and around, the Holy Land.

To help Israel make peace with each of the neighbouring nations, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. Not separately or piecemeal - for this will never really work - but all together.

A friend of mine recently published his wise thoughts on what such peace should look like, on what should be the principal contents of the relevant treaties. Yet one of the odd characteristics of the present situation is that these "contents" of the future peace are already well known, have been substantially worked out and written down for years. The absence of peace is not due to the difficulty of imagining the "contents" - some, of course, do remain to be thought out, but they are essentially only the last details. The problem is the absence of a "mechanism" to tie these "contents" together into a seamless whole. The absence of purposeful initiatives to put such a "mechanism" in place.

Such a "mechanism" was created once, and even launched. It was a moment of grace in international relations, the morrow of "the first Gulf War", when the United Nations Organisation had acted, in accordance with its Charter, to drive the aggressor from a smaller nation, which its more powerful neighbour thought it had already definitively annihilated. That "mechanism" was the Madrid Regional Peace Conference, which met for the first time in the Spanish capital at the end of October 1991. All the interested parties had accepted the invitation to take part, and with the invitation also the guiding principles of this last serious international effort to make peace for the peoples of the Holy Land and their neighbours. Then U.S. President George Bush, with the then Soviet Union (soon to become the Russian Federation) led the initiative, and the two great powers co-chaired the Conference.  Fairly soon though, the attempt was abandoned. Certain participants thought that they could get better results by circumventing it. Perhaps some did, in the very short or short term, but by abandoning the effort at a truly "regional" peace - one made up both of interrelated bilateral peace treaties and multilateral agreements on issues of shared concern (the environment, water, trade...) - they did not ultimately help the overall effort, and in effect sidelined it, took it off the table internationally, with the  (unintended)sad consequences that, some years later, have become so painfully evident.

Still, as far as one knows, the Madrid Conference has never been officially extinguished. It is there, on the shelf, just waiting to be picked up again and put to work. Curiously, so much, on the level on formal international "paper", has developed since 1991 that should make its work easier, its perspective clearer. For example, there have been, among others, Resolution 1559 itself (now reaffirmed by 1701); the mutual recognition of the Israeli and Palestinian Nations in 1993; and - perhaps most significantly - the Arab League Beirut Summit initiative (earlier called the "Saudi initiative") of March 2002, which foresees peace between Israel and all Arab League member nations, a complete reversal of the notorious "three No's" of the same League's Khartoum Summit of 1968... A renewed Madrid Conference, if its two Co-Chair will but have the courage and vision to reconvene it, should be able to work with these elements too, and much else, to build up the order that will give the Holy Land and its neighbouring areas a lasting "tranquillity of order".
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