*Breaking the cycle of violence*
The people of the Middle East deserve peace and justice, and we owe them
*By Jimmy Carter*
*08/08/06 "**The Guardian*
-- -- *The Middle East is a tinderbox, with some key players on all
sides waiting for every opportunity to destroy their enemies with
bullets, bombs and missiles. One of the special vulnerabilities of
Israel, and a repetitive cause of violence, is the holding of prisoners.
Militant Palestinians and Lebanese know that a captured Israeli soldier
or civilian is either a cause of conflict or a valuable bargaining chip
for prisoner exchange. This assumption is based on a number of such
including 1,150 Arabs, mostly Palestinians, for three Israelis in 1985;
123 Lebanese for the remains of two Israeli soldiers in 1996; and 433
Palestinians and others for an Israeli businessman and the bodies of
three soldiers in 2004.
This stratagem precipitated the renewed violence that erupted in June
when Palestinians dug a tunnel under the barrier that surrounds Gaza and
assaulted some Israeli soldiers, killing two and capturing one. They
offered to exchange the soldier
95 women and 313 children who are among almost 10,000 Arabs in Israeli
prisons, but this time Israel rejected a swap and attacked Gaza in an
attempt to free the soldier and stop rocket fire into Israel. The
resulting destruction brought reconciliation between warring Palestinian
factions and support for them throughout the Arab world.
Hizbullah militants in south Lebanon then killed three Israeli soldiers
and captured two others, and insisted on Israel's withdrawal from
disputed territory and an exchange for some of the several thousand
incarcerated Lebanese. With American backing, Israeli bombs and missiles
rained down on Lebanon. Soon, Hizbullah rockets supplied by Syria and
Iran were striking northern Israel.
It is inarguable that Israel has a right to defend itself against
attacks on its citizens, but it is inhumane and counterproductive to
punish civilian populations in the illogical hope that somehow they will
blame Hamas and Hizbullah for provoking the devastating response. The
result instead has been that broad Arab and worldwide support has been
rallied for these groups, while condemnation of both Israel and the
United States has intensified.
Israel belatedly announced, but did not carry out, a two-day cessation
in bombing Lebanon, responding to the global condemnation of an air
attack on the Lebanese village of Qana, where 57 civilians were killed
and where 106 died from the same cause 10 years ago. As before there
were expressions of "deep regret," a promise of "immediate
investigation" and the explanation that dropped leaflets had warned
families in the region to leave their homes.
The urgent need in Lebanon is that Israeli attacks stop, that Lebanon's
regular military forces control the southern region of the country, that
Hizbullah cease as a separate fighting force, and future attacks against
Israel be prevented. Israel should withdraw from all Lebanese territory,
including Shebaa Farms, and release the Lebanese prisoners. Yet Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected such a cease-fire.
These are ambitious hopes, but even if the UN Security Council adopts
and implements a resolution that would lead to such an eventual
solution, it will provide just another band-aid and temporary relief.
Tragically, the current conflict is part of the inevitably repetitive
cycle of violence that results from the absence of a comprehensive
settlement in the Middle East, exacerbated by the almost unprecedented
six-year absence of any real effort to achieve such a goal.
Leaders on both sides ignore strong majorities that crave peace,
allowing extremist-led violence to preempt all opportunities for
building a political consensus. Traumatized Israelis cling to the false
hope that their lives will be made safer by incremental unilateral
withdrawals from occupied areas, while Palestinians see their remnant
territories reduced to little more than human dumping grounds surrounded
by a provocative "security barrier" that embarrasses Israel's friends
and fails to bring safety or stability.
The general parameters of a long-term, two-state agreement are well known.
There will be no substantive and permanent peace for any peoples in this
troubled region as long as Israel is violating key UN resolutions,
official American policy and the international "road map" for peace by
occupying Arab lands and oppressing the Palestinians. Except for
mutually agreeable negotiated modifications, Israel's official pre-1967
borders must be honored. As were all previous administrations since the
founding of Israel, US government leaders must be in the forefront of
achieving this long-delayed goal.
A major impediment to progress is the US administration's strange policy
that dialogue on controversial issues will be extended only as a reward
for subservient behavior and will be withheld from those who reject US
assertions. Direct engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organization
or the Palestinian Authority and the government in Damascus will be
necessary if secure negotiated settlements are to be achieved. Failure
to address the issues and leaders involved risks the creation of an arc
of even greater instability running from Jerusalem through Beirut,
Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran.
The people of the Middle East deserve peace and justice, and we in the
international community owe them our strong leadership and support.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006