[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


July 24, 2006


This week in Palestine... Behind the news with Hanna Siniora


A War of Attrition


Both the Gaza front and the Lebanese fronts do not see any signs of a ceasefire soon. Even the arrival of US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice this coming Monday to the region does not mean that a ceasefire is imminent. The Israeli air campaign all over Lebanon did not achieve its purpose to create a “sanitary” zone in Southern Lebanon up to the Litani River, nor limit Hezbollah’s ability to fire rockets (last Saturday around 180 rockets were fired). The USA vetoed a Security Council resolution last week. In the eyes of the Arab world, even moderate Arab governments like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, and many experts, Washington’s refusal so far to rein in Israel, which began massing thousands of soldiers along its northern border in preparation for a ground invasion, marks a serious set back in its long-term efforts to win Arab and Muslim “hearts and minds” in the war on terror.


Thus, instead of a limited campaign, justified to free the captured soldiers, Israel really hopes to destroy Hamas and Hezbollah in the process. Prolonging the military aspects of the present flare-up might lead to a protracted war of attrition that does not serve the interests of the governments and the peoples of the region.


The escalation in Gaza according to Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, reflects the failure of Israeli unilateralism, the failure of the Quartet’s backed Road Map peace process, the failure of the US-orchestrated exclusion of the UN, the failure of the international community to end the occupation, and the failure of the UN to intervene. One of the consequences now is that any hopes of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that rose from the ratification of the amended “prisoners document” are dismantled and the Egyptian efforts to release the capture soldier Gilaed Shalit may also be torpedoed.


An immediate ceasefire, to be taken at the Security Council level, might allow cooler heads, among them Dr. Rice, next Wednesday in Rome to tackle the root causes of continuous violence in the region. Israel, Syria and Iran are not invited to this forum, the moderate Arab countries will be represented, they have to be given bargaining chips to convince the parties involved, Hamas and Hezbollah, that their demand for prisoners exchange is not ignored, redrawing of borders (the Shebaa’ farms) and serious revival of negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and accepting the results of the Hamas victory in Palestine.


The Regional Approach


Despite the horrible destruction and human tragedies that war brings, it ends a longstanding stalemate that open the doors wide open for opportunities that seemed impossible earlier. No one can ignore the facts that Israel used the opportunity to try to crush Hamas and to stop the firing of Qassams, as well as to try to impose long overdue new rules of behavior upon Hizbollah in Northern Lebanon.


In Palestine, Hamas looked for acceptance of its resounding electoral victory, dropping of political and economic sanctions and legitimizing its political and governmental role, as well as the need for a long standing truce based on a similar ceasefire that has existed on the Israeli-Syrian front since 1949, and the release of prisoners.


On the Lebanese front, Hezbollah wants to consolidate its political and military role as representative of 40% of the Lebanese population, by the redrawing of borders in Northern Lebanon as well as the need for prisoners’ exchange. Syria and Iran have a role to play by being included in devising a regional approach where they will be included in the regional arrangement and not excluded and isolated from such an arrangement.


It is apparent that when Syria is excluded and isolated it tends to undermine and prevent any kind of arrangements to stabilize the region. In the late eighties, they put pressure on King Hussein and Jordan that broke up the confederal set up that led to a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, Syria did it by a series of bombings in Amman and the rest of Jordan. Similarly, Syria did it by ordering a wave of bombings in Lebanon that led to the assassination of Bashir Joumayel and recently Rafiq Hariri and others. Certainly, pressure should be put on the Syrian regime to desist from such terrorist act, but the alternative regime, if the Assad regime falls, is much worse than the present. It could be seen in Iraq, even a democratically elected Shia dominated parliament, might side with Iran in the midterm. Involving Syria, can lead to relieve the threat of the intentions to topple it, end work on democratizing the regime by involving it in regional affairs.


Concerning Iran, by involving the regime to regional arrangements, might abate the Western induced Sunni-Shia rivalry that is rampant in Iraq, might become serious in Lebanon, and eventually spread to the oil-rich gulf were the consequences are disasters to American and Western interests. The former late shah of Iran, dreamt of a nuclear option and dominance of the Gulf area, the emergence of the Khomeini regime was a direct fear of this option globally. The lack of engaging Moslem regimes has radicalized those regimes. It is high time to reverse policy that has been to say the least inept, and support regional involvement of all the players.


This policy, if adopted, would relieve the pressures on radical regime that in order to protect their interests and stability they have to fight American and Israeli interests. This has led to a continuous arms race in the region that led to violence and wars against the domestic interests of better education, health care, and a rise in the economic welfare and standards of the region.


Cultural, religious as well as political and economic interests have to be taken into considerations, other wise, the present violence might lead not only to a long period of war of attrition, but to the spreading of war to involve wider circles and more destruction of hopes and humanity.


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