The loss of innocent civilian life is staggering and the destruction, particularly in Lebanon, is devastating. Human rights organizations and the United Nations have condemned the humanitarian crisis and violations of international humanitarian law.
Yet all the diplomatic clout of the United States was used to prevent a cease-fire, while more military hardware was rushed to the Israeli Army. It was argued that the war had to continue so that the root causes of the conflict could be addressed, but no one explained how destroying Lebanon would achieve that.
And what are these root causes? It is unbelievable that recent events are so regularly traced back only to the abduction of three Israeli soldiers. Few speak of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, or of its Lebanese prisoners, some of whom have been held for more than 20 years. And there is hardly any mention of military occupation and the injustice that has come with it.
Rather than helping in the so-called global war on terror, recent events have benefited the enemies of peace, freedom and democracy. The region is boiling with resentment, anger and despair, feelings that are not leading young Arabs and Palestinians toward the so-called New Middle East.
Nor are these policies helping Israel. Israelís need for security is real and legitimate, but it will not be secured in any sustainable way at the expense of the equally real and legitimate needs and aspirations of its neighbors. Israel and its neighbors could negotiate an honorable settlement and live in peace and harmony. As often happens in complex conflict situations, however, the parties cannot do it alone. They need outside help but are not getting it.
It is perhaps too early to draw lessons from this month of madness. What is clear, however, is that Hezbollah scored a political victory and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has become the most popular figure in the Muslim world. As for Israel, it does not seem to have achieved its stated objectives. Should these trends continue, it is hard to imagine stability coming to the region soon.
So what can be done? The international community should take several steps ó some concrete, some conceptual ó to address the current crisis.
First, priority must be given to ensuring Lebanonís unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity and the full implementation of the 1989 Taif accord, which I helped negotiate on behalf of the Arab League. This agreement specifically required that the Lebanese government, like all states, have a monopoly over the possession of weapons and the use of force.
Second, we must recall that Hezbollah came into existence as a consequence of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Like all movements, it has evolved: it was initially a militia and a resistance movement against foreign occupation. It then developed into both a political party and a social organization, providing valuable services to its impoverished community.
Rather than trying to isolate Hezbollah, we should be encouraging it to play a responsible role in the internal dynamics of Lebanon. It would then, in turn, be legitimate to expect Hezbollah to accept the Lebanese stateís exclusive right to possess armaments and use force.
Third, it is something of a paradox to ask Iran and Syria to sever relations with Hezbollah while asking them to use their influence to obtain its compliance with the cease-fire resolution. Would it not be more effective to demand that both countries, as well as all other states in the region and beyond, scrupulously respect Lebanonís sovereignty and abstain from interfering in its internal affairs?
Fourth, the most valuable contribution Israel can make to lasting peace across its northern border is to withdraw its troops from all the territory it currently occupies, including the Shebaa Farms.
Finally, urgent and sustained attention must be focused on the problem that underlies the unrest in the Middle East: the Palestinian issue. A wealth of United Nations resolutions and other agreements already exist that provide a basis for a just and viable solution to the Middle East conflict.
One approach could be for a team of mediators to be mandated by the Security Council and an international conference (including the Arab League) to take on the formidable task of reviving the pre-existing agreements that work best and then seeing that they are put in place.
If the United States and other key countries could see this conflict through a different lens, there could be a real chance for peace. This would be the best way to signal genuine respect and atonement for the suffering inflicted on so many innocent people for so many years.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company