Israel vs. Lebanon. It’s like watching the Terminator vs. Nacho Libre: there’s no contest – just mindless violence.
After five days of bombardment from Israeli forces, only two world leaders have called for diplomatic measures to help stabilize the situation in Lebanon – and neither was an American. Instead, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair finally spoke up.
Hundreds are dying, thousands of civilians have been left homeless, and thousands of Western tourists have been trapped as “death from above” rains down. Eight Canadians were killed in the bombardment of the port city of Tyre, and more than 280 Lebanese are dead. Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, killing about 28 people. Meanwhile, you can hear crickets chirping in the deafening silence, as world leaders watch mutely from the sidelines.
Even as CNN reported that 25,000 Americans were stranded in Lebanon, President Bush complained that he’d had enough of the G8 Summit and wanted to go home. His beef? People were talking too long.
Although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to several interviews, she iterated – and reiterated – her position that Mr. Bush has no reason to call Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to ask him to show restraint. Bush already made this request in front of the press, she says, so why waste a telephone call? Olmert can watch the President’s statement on Fox News or CNN.
In northern Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon, thousands of innocents are paying the price for the actions of small cadres of terrorists – terrorists who flourish because the West refuses to push the peace process forward.
The current crisis erupted after negotiations to release Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails yielded no results. In response, alleged Hezbollah militants, both irresponsible and short-sighted, captured two Israeli soldiers as hostages to encourage a prisoner exchange. Ultimately, this only encouraged all-out war – one fostered by Iran and Syria, but one in which Lebanon (again) bears the brunt.
I’ve traveled to Lebanon several times to witness the recovery process. Thanks to strict rebuilding rules, enforced by deceased Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and the withdrawal of two occupying forces – Israel and Syria – the Lebanese are slowly creating a truly democratic government.
Although the Syrians withdrew last year, the Lebanese have not been freed of their influence or that of Hezbollah. Terrorist attacks inside the country have targeted outspoken members of parliament and journalists critical of Syrian influence.
Meanwhile, Western governments have done little but pay lip service to supporting change within the Lebanese government. Everyone championed U.N. Resolution 1559 to support a free Lebanese government and disarm Hezbollah, but they left it to the Lebanese to figure out how to disarm the terrorists. In other words, the world simply watched and hoped for change.
More astounding, they also watched Hezbollah amass rockets in the south, and then expressed surprise that Hezbollah would actually use them. What did they expect? People don’t acquire weapons just to admire them.
Frankly, there are too many events in the Middle East that take our leaders by “surprise.” My question is: why are the rest of us not surprised?
Prior to the 2003 invasion, published articles informed the Bush Administration that no WMD existed in Iraq, but the President was “surprised” when none were found.
Israel built a wall, took more Palestinian land, and prevented average Palestinians from moving freely through their villages. In response, Palestinians voted against the status quo, and elected a new government led by Hamas. The Israelis saw this coming (and so did the rest of us), but in the words of Ms. Rice, “We were surprised.”
Finally, back in Lebanon, the world watched – but did nothing – as Hezbollah amassed 15,000 rockets. Why should we be surprised that Hezbollah used these weapons? I don’t know, but I’ll bet the Administration will say they were “stunned.”
So where do we go from here?
First, there must be a cease-fire. Lobbing bombs back and forth has got to stop, and all unlawfully detained prisoners must be peacefully exchanged.
Second, an international diplomatic task force, like the one marshaled to deal with Iran should be assembled to move the peace process forward. This task force must also pressure Iran to stop funding Hezbollah – once and for all.
Third, there is no reason the diplomatic corps can’t convince the Israelis to work with the Lebanese and Palestinians to create a safe region. Why not create a Middle East peacekeeping force composed of Lebanese, Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis? These teams can protect the borders together, stop arms running and halt cross-border terrorist operations. Partnering with people instead of fighting them will also enhance the overall prospects for peace.
Fourth, Israel must realize that it’s not about to be overrun, so it needn’t respond to every attack with overwhelming force. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can say whatever he wants about the legitimacy of the State, but it is clearly a viable state – one that possesses the second strongest army in the world.
Keeping this in mind, it is time for Israel to make peace with all its neighbors. Viewing them as partners instead of enemies will make a huge difference when confronting regional issues. Israel may have to barter some land, but isn’t it worth the price for our children’s futures?
If you travel to any of the countries on Israel’s immediate border, it becomes clear that the Arab population would support peace. It is the first thing on their minds. In Israel, 2,000 people – Jewish and Arab – marched on Tel Aviv demanding an end to the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. Governments must stop getting in the way of popular opinion, and work with it.
Fifth, the European Union must work harder to hold the U.S. to the task of ensuring peace. Everyone knows that the E.U. shies away from war, which is fine, but why not do more to discourage it everywhere? Congrats to the French foreign minister for speaking up (on his own) in solidarity with Lebanon. If only other ministers would follow, the E.U. might be able to lead the way – at least in this case.
Finally, the G8 summit in Russia has demonstrated that the U.S. may be the world’s only superpower, but can’t operate on its own. Other leaders — from Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — must band together with the U.S. to support peace in the Middle East, followed by the rebuilding of Iraq and the termination of financial and weapons support of terrorist groups.
Then (just maybe) we can start creating a world in which we can all live together, instead of a world we desperately try to keep at bay – by building walls and stockpiling weapons.
Patricia DeGennaro is an Associate Professor of International Affairs at New York University. You can email comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website at www.awakenthesenses.com