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It’s Up to Europe

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    Posted: 24 August 2006 at 5:57pm

It's Up to Europe to Promote Hopes of Peace

8.24.2006 -- Never has the situation in the Near and Middle East been so murky, unstable, and worrying. Tension is at its zenith and the prospect of peace more distant than ever. And, if we've come to this pass, it's due to the mistakes of some and the insane intransigence of others.

Mistakes of the Americans, who believed that their Greater Middle East initiative aimed at democratizing this region - willingly or by force - would lead to a "constructive chaos" from which peace and security would emerge. Mistakes of the Israelis, who, under Ariel Sharon's impetus, rejected making peace with the Palestinians and convinced themselves that they could shelter behind security walls thanks to a unilateral policy of withdrawal from the territories and massive military intervention at the slightest incident with their neighbors.

Intransigence from the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, and their Iranian godfathers. Their refusal to recognize the existence of Israel, their systematic recourse to the cruelest violence directed against civilian populations, their permanent challenge - reaching exaltation - thrown at the international community, its institutions and its rules, has imprisoned them in an infernal rhetoric which offers no perspective other than hatred and death.

The outcome? It is tragic: chaos without reconstruction, withdrawal without security, reinforcement of extremisms without democratization. More seriously, we risk seeing a fundamentalist arc create itself from Cairo to Tehran, from Ahmadinejad to the Muslim Brotherhood, able to seduce the populace and perhaps soon overturn already seriously weakened Arab regimes.

It is consequently urgent to act. What happened in Lebanon should prove one thing to us: in this very complex region, everything is linked and related. Partial, biased, unilateral solutions do no work. Everyone uses the pretext of what's happening somewhere else to refuse to budge, or worse, to aggravate the situation. The route to peace consequently goes through all the region's capitals without exclusion. The Near and Middle East need a big plan involving a total compromise in which everyone finds his place. I'd like to suggest its main outlines.

Israel and Palestine first of all: it's no longer a matter of opening a new peace process, but of elaborating a global arrangement, which means going back more or less to the 1967 borders, based on the parameters of the 2000 Clinton negotiations, the 2001 Taba negotiations, and the 2003 Geneva plan. The region will not calm down until an equitable solution has been produced to the Israeli-Palestinian question, which is consequently the highest priority. Israel must convince itself that peace will come neither from isolation behind a security wall, nor through force of arms, but by the scope of mutual concessions. In the same way, for the Israeli-Lebanese-Syrian triangle, all the questions have to be handled together: Golan, Shebaa Farms, prisoners and hostages, disarmament of Hezbollah, etc.

In Iraq, the future goes through an announced and systematic United States withdrawal and a new institutional and political balance between Shiites and Sunnis that would allow the latter to emerge from the state of insurrection into which they have foundered. We must also imagine that the present guardianship will be replaced by a system guaranteeing Iraq's sovereignty and political stability under the double protection of the great powers and the principal states in the region. That would have to include free international access to petroleum resources.

Iran is probably the most difficult issue. The American policy of isolating this country - conducted for close to thirty years - has totally failed. Recent European attempts at an arrangement limited to the nuclear question have undergone the same fate. Consequently, I propose to change and to use the method Nixon and Kissinger used with China: that of proposing a new strategic vision to this awkward country. The international community, acknowledging the Iranian regime, would recognize the eminent position that is Iran's due, notably on a regional level. For its part, Iran would stop supporting the Lebanese and Palestinian militias and give up threatening Israel. The settlement of the nuclear question would hung to a revision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that recent developments in Brazil and India make inevitable in any case.

The reasons for hope - contrary to what one might think - are numerous. First of all, there is an often-underestimated factor: peoples' aspiration to peace. For example, whether it be in Israel or in Palestine, the majority of the population has rallied to the idea of two states.

Moreover, a diplomatic turnaround on the part of the United States is not impossible. The Greater Middle East strategy has failed: everyone knows it in Washington and from now on, nolens volens, the debate is open. It's the same in Tel Aviv after the partial failure of the operation conducted in Lebanon. Suddenly, it's no longer out of the question for Israeli public opinion to realize that the only way to assure Israel's security is through an "invisible wall of international legitimacy," as Shlomo Ben Ami wrote (in August 12th's Le Monde).

Iran, finally, is less monolithic than it seems. Ahmadinejad was elected on the theme of the social question. His anti-Israel sermonizing masks the regime's failure on that score. To create a prospect of peace in Palestine and to propose a new situation to Iran could bring the most rational leaders to the fore.

The overall plan exists; the reasons to hope, also. It only remains to bring it to reality. How? Through Europe. I haven't talked about Europe, so truly has it been absent: torn between British acquiescence and French activism. On the basis of what I have just outlined, Europe could recover its unity, bring this overall plan to bear, and take the world as witness. Europe may all the more do this as it acts as a trusted third party between the Muslim world, Israel, and the United States.

So the European Council could solicit a person of international stature, recognized for his work in favor of peace and his balanced positions. Such a person could have the mission of discussing with all sides with the objective of detailing the contours of a global solution.

Such a personage exists and will retire at the end of this year. To confide such a mission to Kofi Annan would not be a bad idea. The decision remains to be taken. Herv้ de Charette, Le Monde

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