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Make Peace Now

What opportunities for peace in the Middle East did the United States miss after 9/11?

January 7, 2009

What opportunities for peace in the Middle East did the United States miss after 9/11?

Even the left-leaning French newspaper Le Monde declared on September 12: “We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin.”

So, what could have been done differently in order to draw new hope from devastation? The answer is simple and yet complex: bringing peace to the Middle East.

The lingering, decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians — as well as America’s failure to help resolve this conflict — had been a convenient front for the terrorists that perpetrated the horrendous crimes of 9/11.

A truly courageous and visionary president would have taken bold action that would have pulled the fabricated rug of alleged conspiratorial Zionism from underneath Osama bin-Laden and his accomplices, forever reducing their revolting recruitment powers.

Tragic missed opportunities

We all know that President Bush was neither courageous nor a visionary, and that he chose a course of action that would turn worldwide solidarity with the United States into near-global condemnation.

His quest to alter the political map of the Middle East succeeded in a Greek-tragedy kind-of-way, bringing to power (or closer to power) the most radical forces in the region and instigating its broad-based destabilization — hence indefinitely threatening the security of the United States and Israel.

This takes us to today’s most tragic state of affairs. In free elections, Palestinians overwhelmingly voted for terrorist Hamas, snuffing out the fading flame of hope for peace with Israel.

Hamas has so far refused to even contemplate Israel’s right to exist and has instead terrorized that country with daily — albeit largely feeble — rocket attacks.

At the end of 2008, Israel reacted massively to these provocations. This escalation has led the region — once again — to the brink of all-out-war. The action has all but guaranteed the victory of extremists in the forthcoming elections in the Palestinian territories, and in Israel itself.

If unchecked, these elections will worsen the security conditions in the region and further add to the seemingly endless suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Equally, such election results will deepen the chasm within both societies — i.e., the thirst for peace by half their peoples and the hunger for eternal revenge by the other half.

Yet, a courageous and visionary U.S. president still can make a difference, even against highly unfavorable odds.

First of all, President Obama should look at a truly regional solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by engaging Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iran in the process. The objective should be that Israel will largely withdraw to its 1967 borders, in return for a peace treaty with all parties.

Second, in composing his cabinet, President Obama has selected able individuals who intellectually disagree on many fronts. He should apply this concept to negotiating a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East by asking the European Union and China to be represented as peace catalysts under his leadership.

Third, the conditions for the creation of a Palestinian state have to be agreed upon. This state must consist of contiguous territory — in other words the West Bank and Gaza must be connected through a narrow, newly created corridor.

Fourth, all Jewish settlements must be removed from the new Palestinian state. This is a tall order for Israel, but we all must agree that only international laws and agreements — and not religious texts — may determine the borders of a country.

Fifth, Palestinian refugees, scattered around the globe, cannot return to the newly founded Palestine or to Israel proper. This is a huge compromise for the Palestinians, but it is unavoidable because such a return would unacceptably change the security profile of the region.

Sixth, an arrangement of administering East Jerusalem must be decided upon. Such an arrangement must be mindful of the security concerns of the State of Israel as well as of the historical rights of the Palestinians. This has been and will continue to be the linchpin of any agreement.

Anybody who has visited Jerusalem, understands the practical complexity of this politically wise compromise. Facing the Wailing Wall, one’s peripheral vision glances at the gate to the Arab Quarter, a potent reminder of the proximity within which these communities live.

Outlines of a compromise

These key aspects of a proposed settlement are not revolutionary, although both sides in this conflict will claim that they are unacceptable. The vague outlines of a compromise were drafted in the still-born Camp David agreement in 2000 between Ehud Barak, then Israel’s Prime Minister and its Minister of Defense today, and Yasser Arafat.

Why, one might ask, would such a proposal be agreeable today whereas it failed eight years ago? The reasons are several. First of all, by trying to find a regional approach, other parties such as Syria have a stake in contributing to the resolution of the conflict, for example by nudging the Palestinian leadership to embrace this historical opportunity.

A settlement is also in the interest of Egypt, which has struggled with maintaining the integrity of its border with Gaza without enraging its own population over actions that are widely interpreted as pro-Israel and anti-Arab. This has been a tremendous burden to the Mubarak regime, which rules a country once controlled by the still-adored proponent of pan-Arabism, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Second, by deepening the bench of honest brokers with the inclusion of the European Union and China, the United States also concentrates the catalytic nature of such brokerage.

Third, there are sticks that honest brokers might wish to use in order to force a peaceful settlement, if carrots of meaningful financial assistance and security guarantees won’t do the trick.

Both Israel and Egypt could be threatened with the withdrawal of significant portions of financial assistance unless they agree or help the Palestinians to agree to a peaceful settlement.

Lastly, if all still fails, the global community led by the tripartite arbiters could come to the conclusion that a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine peacefully side-by-side, is not viable as neither side is willing nor able to make the necessary concessions.

Instead, a broad coalition of external parties could begin to promote the idea of a unified, secular Israeli/Palestinian state with concrete power sharing agreements. It could be argued that nation states which build their future on religious faith are failed states, because ultimately they are unable to maintain either internal or external peace.

A Federal Republic of Israel and Palestine could marginalize the religious extremists that exist in either community. Forged together, the two communities might appreciate the many fundamental values and aspirations which they share over the legacy issues that divide them.