The Middle East is aflame. The situation is dire, and there seems to be no end in sight. However, there appeared to be a little light at the end of this dark and dreary tunnel, when Israel agreed to a proposal by President Bush to end the siege of Yasser Arafat's almost completely destroyed compound in Ramallah. The President proposed to have American and British guards watch over the Palestinian gunmen convicted of murdering Israeli Tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in a Palestinian jail. It was a heartening breakthrough in a horrible situation.
The question of where to go from here, however, still looms large. With the whole world watching, Israel refused to admit the U.N. fact-finding team to investigate the allegations of a massacre in Jenin. Palestinian radicals have vowed to continue their attacks on Israelis, and the end of the occupation of Palestinian land is no nearer now than it was at the beginning of the current uprising. All this is sure to bring about more violence and suffering for both sides and further dash any elusive hope for peace in the region.
Although I hate to admit it, it seems the only way to bring peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is direct American intervention. There must be a peacekeeping force deployed to the region. If the Israelis can accept a U.S. and British presence to guard the convicted killers of Zeevi, it is not too far of a stretch for them to accept an American/International peacekeeping force in the West Bank and Gaza. This is the only way. The distrust between both sides is at an all time high, and it is becoming more and more evident that third-party intervention is essential to any final solution.
I am deeply concerned about the possibility that it will inevitably put my American brothers and sisters, who so nobly risk their lives on a daily basis to protect me and my freedom, into possible harm's way. They may become targets for attacks, as our Marines were in Lebanon almost 20 years ago. But I do not see any other way out. A peacekeeping force will be able to placate the concerns of both sides and pave the way for an end to the conflict. It will protect Israel from further attacks from an eventual Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and will finally give the Palestinian people safety and security, things that have eluded them for so long. Will it be an occupation army? No. Will the troops stay there forever? I hope not. However, our troops are doing an exceptional job keeping the peace in Bosnia, and they will do an equally exceptional job in Palestine.
I agree; this is a nauseating proposal. New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman asked us to be sitting down when he first made this suggestion. However, now the opportunity is ripe to build momentum for this idea, since the Israelis accepted the Bush proposal. We can transfer some of the troops currently in Saudi Arabia, where, despite repeated assurances by the Saudis of the opposite, we are not wanted or welcome, to the West Bank and Gaza. What better way to show our friendship for Israel than to place our troops immediately next door to protect her? The Middle East is aflame, and if something is not done soon, the fires of the conflict will consume us as well.
Hesham A. Hassaballa, a physician, is a columnist based in Chicago who writes for the Independent Writers Synidcate.