[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


July 16, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora


The Arab League


Amer Moussa, The Arab League Secretary-General declared after the emergency meeting in Cairo of the Arab Foreign Ministers that the peace process is dead, the present initiatives reached a dead end, and that the Arab League will ask the UN Security Council to deal anew with the process.


For the first time ever open criticism was heard from countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan against the unilateral actions carried by radical organizations especially Hizbollah of Lebanon. The Saudi Arabian declaration a day before the meeting in Cairo did not mince words, and was openly critical of Hizbollah’s recent activities that led to the devastation of Lebanon’s infrastructure. A similar position was declared at the end of the Egyptian-Jordanian meeting of head of states in Cairo by President Mubarak and King Abdullah. In Kuwait similar sentiments were announced during the visit of Saad Hariri, the leader of the ruling coalition in Lebanon.


It became clear and beyond doubt that the most important Arab countries did not allow their emotions to rule their judgment. In times of distress, during attacks, usually the Arab leaders join their masses in an emotional reaction supporting the radical elements in their midst. Despite overwhelming public support to the capture of Israeli soldiers, the Arab governments put their feet down and went against the tide. This caused dismay by the Arab public at large. How could the Arab leaders rebuke the actions of radical elements in Lebanon and Palestine? These Arab leaders must react by closing rank and support fully the actions carried by Hizbollah and Hamas. It was not an easy decision by those Arab leaders who publicly blamed Hizbollah for the latest outbreak of hostilities. For the man in the street, it looked like the Arab leaders are collaborating with the enemy, and supportive of the enemy’s retaliation against their own kin.


Certainly, this is a new unexpected position by the major movers and shakers of Arab policy, is it going to boomerang on those leaders negatively, would the public eventually accept that sound judgment and not emotions were behind those decisions. At the moment the horror of war and the indiscriminate killing of children women and innocent civilians are the only pictures that play havoc with the Arab public emotions and reactions.


How Wise is the Top Dog in the Region


It is very apparent that Israel’s military might is beyond questioning. Whoever controls the skies will always have the military edge. Israel is not in danger of elimination. The Israeli leadership must act wisely. Recent history since 2000 have clearly indicated that the unchallenged use of force, did not bring peace, the bed stricken Ariel Sharon re-conquered the West Bank, Israeli troops are in control of all the cities and roads in the West bank. The iron fist policies and collective punishment did not bring peace, the present situation in Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza despite Israeli military superiority is total rebellion, the public voted into power Hamas , and to a similar extent Hezbollah is part of the ruling coalition in Lebanon.


Cooler heads in Israel must react to events exactly like cooler heads in the Arab countries have reacted to Present developments. Israel has demonstrated its military supremacy, now Israeli leadership must develop a different reaction to events. A joint Israeli-Palestinian think tank, IPCRI has been feverishly busy sending signals and suggestion to Arab and Israeli leaders. Israel, if they continue to rely on the military machine, will for sure, eliminate the moderates in the Arab world and in Palestine and lead to the destabilization of many Arab regimes.


IPCRI suggested to Israeli leaders that a prisoners exchange is urgent. At the same time learning from the unilateral disengagements shortcomings in Gaza, the aim is not to strengthen radicals, the aim is to strengthen moderates like the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. A deal with Abbas now that will lead to the release of Gilad Shalit and a week later of Palestinian prisoners, would strengthen the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and will assuage the emotions of the Palestinian public and pave the way for the resumption of bilateral negotiations.


In the same manner, Israel has to reconsider its outright rejection of moderate Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora, consider him as the worthy interlocutor that he is, make a deal that will lead to the release of the two captured Israeli soldiers, and strengthen PM Siniora to carry out Security Council resolution 1559. Any other course taken by Israel, will only lead to further destruction, alienation and radicalization of the Arab masses, total destruction of infrastructure and resources, and in war all the sides pay a heavy price.


The G 8 Meeting


The UN Security Council has reflected the discussions that led to the American veto in the Israeli-Palestinian venue, and lack of any actions to stop the war in Lebanon. At the moment the most important leaders are attending the G8 summit, President Bush can save his Presidency by taking a fresh start on how to deal with the crisis in the Middle East. Presidents Bush and Putin should call for, first, an immediate ceasefire, then invite the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine and the leaders of Israel to meet under their auspices in a sort of Camp David setting, it could be anywhere in USA or Russia, keep those leaders together as long as it takes until they come out with a permanent settlement.

Palliative measures will only cool matters temporarily, to flare up more violently later on. The peoples of the region are fed up of wars and the calamities of wars, its time to force a change, Bush and Putin can do it, or they will doom the region to many returns of the moment.


Hanna Siniora is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.  www.ipcri.org