08/10/2006, 00.00
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Can a pointless war lead to a final peace settlement in the Middle East?

by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
No one is benefiting from Israel's war in Lebanon and Hezbollah's and Hamas's violence against Israel. Jesuit Fr Samir Khalil Samir, an Islam expert and professor in Beirut, offers a few suggestions to the United Nations.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Israel's expanded offensive in Lebanon which began yesterday has already raised the death toll by 15 more Israeli soldiers and 40 Hezbollah guerrillas. But the most blood is being shed by the Lebanese people, who are losing hope a lit bit more every day.

Caught between the blind violence of the Israeli army and the hesitations of international diplomacy, the more peaceful Lebanese opt for emigration; those who are less peaceful become Hezbollah supporters. The hatred for Israel grows in all.

For many analysts and political leaders, Israeli included, the situation is clear. A military victory won't give Israel security, nor will it bring peace to the region. All it will do is boost hatred against Israel and therefore create greater insecurity.

Similarly, Hezbollah's and Hamas's attacks won't free Lebanese and Palestinian land nor will they lead to peace. All they will do is increase hatred against them and convince Israel (as if that was necessary) that "Arabs know only the language of force".

There will just be more destruction, more losses, more hatred . . . until the next war.

No one gains from war. No One! As an ideological movement "Islamic terrorism" cannot be defeated by force alone. This was demonstrated by the Red Brigades and ETA, shown in Algeria and Afghanistan, or is seen day after day in Iraq where hundreds of people still die after the US "liberation". So what can be done?

"Get to the bottom of the problem"

Politicians say: "A ceasefire does not solve the problem." That is true, but at least it will stop the violence in Israel and Lebanon.

Everyone says: "We must get to the bottom of the problem." That is equally true.

Hezbollah, which usurped the Lebanese army's role as defender of the country, is not the root of the problem. It did not exist when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Hamas also is not the root of the problem, nor is Fatah. The attack against Israel at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, which began the wave of terrorism in the region, is not the root of the problem.

The problem goes back to the creation of the State of Israel and the partition of Palestine in 1948. The Big Powers chose to partition the country in the wake of the organised and systematic persecution of the Jews but failed to take into account the populations already present in the (Holy) land. This is the real cause of all the wars that followed.

The partition is none the less a fact of history that was sanctioned by the international community. The existence of two states, Israel and Palestine, is a reality that finds its legitimacy in the United Nations and cannot be challenged.

Every wound inflicted on international legality carries an even greater evil. Hence any solution to the conflict that does not respect international legality, i.e. UN resolutions, will not bring peace.

Proposals for a final peace plan

As things stand right now, diplomacy is the only path to peace as long as it follows two rules: first, justice and respect for international legality; two, the need to make concessions which implies flexibility, thoughtfulness and willingness to surrender some of our rights for the sake of those of others.

We need a lasting solution, or better still, we need a final solution to the Mideast crisis so that together, slowly, we can build the peace and—if we are allowed to dream for a moment—a "Middle East Union".

To reach that goal, I'll layout the essential points of what I consider a just and realistic course of action:

1. A Palestinian state based on pre-1967 War boundaries with small changes, if necessary, as long as they are agreed upon by both Israel and Palestine.

2. Palestinians must give up the "right to return" and Israelis must give up their settlements in Palestinian territories. Small territorial adjustments might have to be made but only with the agreement of Israel and Palestine. The international community should compensate the parties for what they relinquish.

3. All the countries of the Middle East (including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, etc.) must officially recognise the borders of the region's states as final and exchange ambassadors with them.

4. An international force "with teeth" should be deployed where peace is not fully implemented to prevent arms smuggling, especially between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon and Syria, Syria and Iraq, Iran and Iraq, and Turkey and Iraq.

5. Each state should receive assistance in setting up its own national army to disarm all groups, parties, settlers, etc.

6. Prisoners held by other countries should be freed. Exchange agreements should be reached, in particular between Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.

7. An international commission should be set up for Jerusalem to guarantee security within the city, freedom of movement and respect for the borders between the two states, both of which legitimately wish to have the city as their capital.

8. An international commission should be created to equitably solve water use in the region, which is an essential condition for development and often cause of friction and source of conflict.

The war currently underway, with its after-effects in terms of brutality and suffering, is letting millions of people, whatever their side, to come to the realisation that violence is pointless, that wars will not change the Middle East.

Realising this might be the only good thing coming out of this tragedy, which is being fought on the backs of the Lebanese people.

If from this tragedy a final peace plan can emerge, then this martyrdom may not have been in vain! Talks now taking place at the United Nations Security Council in New York might be the first steps in just such a direction.

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