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Fuad Siniora Op Ed in NYTimes 5/11/07

This short article by the Prime Minister of Lebanon is a very
important development for a number of reasons: (1) it has been published
in the Times and will be widely read in Washington and elsewhere; (2) it
is by one of the few senior Arab officials who is actually a friend of
the United States (though his enemies call him an American puppet, which
is unfair); (3) it is a strong antidote to the ridiculous op ed by
Thomas Friedman published in the same newspaper two days ago putting all
of the blame for what happened to Lebanon last year on Hassan
Nasrallah's Hezbollah, whereas the most blame falls on Israel's wholly
disproportionate response to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers
intended to trigger a prisoner exchange (Siniora doesn't even mention
Hezbollah); (4) and, most of all, the Arab Peace Initiative is the most
generous offer Israel will ever receive from the united Arab States
including the Palestinians, and the only solution to the Arab-Israeli
conflict likely to bring peace and security to all of the states in the
Middle East, including Israel.
Robert V. Keeley
May 11, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor


 Give the Arab Peace Initiative a Chance

By FUAD SINIORA

Beirut

ALMOST a year has passed since Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon, time
enough to draw lessons from the conflict and reflect on its consequences.

Last week, Israel’s Winograd Commission published an interim report
scrutinizing Israel’s conduct during what it called the country’s most
recent military “campaign.” But the report failed to draw the most
essential lesson from the July war and the wars that preceded it:
military action does not give the people of Israel security. On the
contrary, it compromises it. The only way for the people of Israel and
the Arab world to achieve stability and security is through a
comprehensive peace settlement to the overarching Arab-Israeli conflict.

It is in this vein that participants in the March Arab League summit in
Riyadh called again for a peace proposal originally put forward at a
similar gathering in Beirut in 2002. The Arab Peace Initiative, as it is
called, was introduced by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by all the Arab
countries. It offers Israel full recognition by the 22 members of the
Arab League in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967
borders, thus allowing the Palestinians to create a viable independent
state on what is only 22 percent of historic Palestine.

This is a high price but one the Arabs are willing to pay, as it is the
only realistic path to peace that conforms to all United Nations
Security Council and General Assembly resolutions addressing the
conflict, and ensures the right of return of the Palestinian people. The
Arab states are not seeking to wipe Israel off the map. Rather, we are
seeking the legitimate goals of an armistice, secure borders and the
ability of all of the region’s people to live in peace and security.

Last summer’s war was only the latest eruption of violence in this
enduring conflict, and hindered prospects for peace rather than creating
opportunities for it. The Winograd interim report criticized the Israeli
government’s war goals as being unclear and unachievable, yet the
Israeli Army came dangerously close to achieving the stated goal of its
chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz: to “turn Lebanon’s clock back 20
years.”

The report made no mention of the sheer damage inflicted. Lebanon’s
airports, bridges and power plants were systematically ravaged. Villages
were destroyed, and more than an eighth of its population displaced. The
bombardment caused an estimated $7 billion in damage and economic losses
while leaving behind 1.2 million cluster bomblets that continue to kill
and maim innocent people.

Most important, the war took the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese
citizens, the vast majority of them civilians. This epitomizes the
protracted injustice Arabs feel as a result of Israel’s record of
destruction of their lives and livelihood, its oppression of the
Palestinian people and its continued illegal occupation of Arab lands.
The July war proved that militarism and revenge are not the answer to
instability; compromise and diplomacy are.

This should be the impetus for Israel to seek a comprehensive solution
based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The Winograd Commission’s failure to
discuss the war’s implications for peace prospects leads one to wonder
whether Israel would rather allow this conflict to fester as long as it
is under relatively controlled conditions. Its goal should be regional
peace and security, which can be realized only through a just resolution
to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The inevitable alternative is increased
extremism, intolerance and destruction.

Like the Israelis, the Arab people have legitimate security concerns, as
evidenced by what Lebanon endured last summer. So often we have seen
parties to the conflict use force in the name of self-defense and
security, only to further aggravate the situation and compromise the
very security they seek. These escalations also occur because there has
never been full compliance with international law. Thus, illegal
occupations, over-flights, detentions, house demolitions, humiliating
checkpoints, attacks and counterattacks continue to heighten the anger
and despair. Perpetuating hostility and distrust in this manner goes
against the tide of confidence-building this region needs to foster
stability. The conflict has persisted for so long, generating so many
tangled consequences, that diplomacy remains the only option.

Because of its unique role in the world, the United States has a
responsibility to display leadership and courage in helping the two
sides achieve a just and lasting peace. The people of the Middle East
aspire simply to live in freedom and dignity, without constant threats
of violence, occupation and war. This is achievable if we demonstrate
political will and learn the harsh lessons from the past. Leading these
peace efforts is not only an American responsibility, it is in the
United States’ interests: peace in the Middle East would offer a gateway
to reconciliation with the Muslim world during these times of increased
divisiveness and radicalism.

The Winograd Commission tried to draw conclusions about the Israeli
political and military leadership from their actions during the July
war. The correct lesson is that the only path to long-lasting peace is
itself peaceful. With the support of the United States and its partners
in the Quartet on the Middle East — the European Union, the United
Nations and Russia — we hope to use the Arab Peace Initiative as the
foundation to finally bring about a comprehensive peace to our troubled
region. Only then will the people of the Middle East be able to finally
realize their shared goal of living in freedom with security and lasting
peace.

Fuad Siniora is the prime minister of Lebanon.

Copyright 2007
<http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html> The New
York Times Company <http://www.nytco.com/>

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