By Maen Areikat
Boston Globe (August 2, 2006)
Forced peace vs. just peace
SUNDAY'S tragic death of more than 50 civilians, mostly children, in Israeli military strikes on the Lebanese village of Qana exposed a simple but uncomfortable truth for the Bush administration: Relying on Israel's overwhelming use of force to prepare the conditions for peace will exacerbate, not resolve, the Middle East's conflicts. Already Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate by sending rockets deeper into Israel.
Prior to this attack, the Bush administration was pushing two messages on how to resolve the latest crisis: first, that any cease-fire in Lebanon must be "enduring "; second, that a return to calm is predicated on addressing the "root causes" of violence in the region and implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming militias in Lebanon.
These positions require urgent review. By favoring an "enduring" cease-fire over an immediate one, the United States is widely seen as providing Israel with cover to tear apart innocent lives and civil infrastructure in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. And if the root causes of the violence are reduced to the proliferation of sub-state militias, those same militias will gain, not lose, from this stance.
We have seen the failure of such policies before. In 1982, Israel launched operation "Peace for the Galilee," which was intended to crush the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon. After several months of wide-scale destruction and thousands of civilian deaths, Israel managed to force the PLO out of Lebanon. But Israel never accomplished its stated mission of providing safety to its north. Nor could it avoid reaching a political accommodation with the PLO a few years later in Madrid, or again in Oslo. Meanwhile, the Lebanese population's hatred of Israel's military occupation bred Hezbollah, which fought a guerrilla war against the Israeli army until it withdrew in the summer of 2000.
Similarly, in March 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persuaded a sympathetic Bush administration to allow him to direct a strong military blow to the Palestinians in an attempt to gain their submission before the next round of peace negotiations. In the Israeli military campaign that followed, hundreds of Palestinians were killed, the Palestinian Authority's security and civil infrastructure were destroyed, Palestinian faith in a negotiated peace with Israel was shattered, and all of the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel were effectively voided. Instead of defeating the logic of violence, Israel's actions reinforced it.
That deadly blunder is currently being replayed in the Gaza Strip. The purported cause of Israel's intensified onslaught on Gaza is the capture of a single Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. Following that, Gaza has been plunged into chaos, suffering the devastation of its civil infrastructure, the loss of about 150 men, women, and children, and the wounding of hundreds by the Israeli military, using US-made weaponry.
Yet the direct political victims of Israel's brutal campaign are not the members of the militias Israel claims to be targeting, but the members of the Palestinian peace camp, or what is left of it, most notably President Mahmoud Abbas. In January 2005, Abbas was elected on a platform of advocating peace and dialogue with Israel, but Israeli actions in Gaza are now making it impossible for him to promote this agenda. Amid the spiraling violence, hatred is on the rise and peace appears more elusive than perhaps ever before. President Bush's vision of two states, Palestine and Israel, and the US-sponsored road map are fast becoming obsolete in the absence of a determined international effort to realize either.
So the reaction of the Bush administration to the latest crisis is dangerously misguided at best and hypocritical at worst. Support for implementing UN Resolution 1559 should be welcomed, but it should not prevent an immediate cease-fire. Moreover, if it is not coupled with pressure on Israel to comply with numerous UN resolutions it has previously ignored, regional resentment toward US selectivity will only swell. And if dealing with the root causes of the conflict does not address Israel's 39-year-old occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territory, armed groups will continue to exploit the opportunity for confrontation.
If the Israeli leadership genuinely seeks security for its people, it must accept that this cannot be attained through displays of military superiority, but through a just peace agreement with its Arab neighbors, based on UN resolutions and international law. And if the US leadership genuinely seeks an enduring regional peace that tackles the root causes of local violence, it must lead the international community's re engagement in conflict resolution, not conflict acquiescence.
A peace agreement that guarantees freedom, security, and dignity to Palestinians, Lebanese, and Israelis alike is yet possible. The power of logic can still prevail over the logic of power.
Maen Areikat is the director general of the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department.