Posted by: sean | September 5, 2006

A New Middle East

The New York Review has a good analysis of recent events in the Middle East by Robert Malley, who was Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs and is currently Middle East and North Africa Program Director at the International Crisis Group:

For Israel, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, the most costly blow is the one to which they will be seen as having surrendered. The conflict is no longer about achieving a specific objective — releasing a soldier, say, or capturing defined territory. It is about something more intangible, and so more serious: establishing one’s power of deterrence, defining the rules of the game, showing who is boss. Such confrontations may subside, and they may even pause. They will not end.

The whole article is worth reading. Malley has a really good grasp of the overall situation, and he’s far from optimistic.

To my mind, until this conflict can be pushed back to the more manageable domain of territorial dispute, things are going to keep getting worse. The first step, as I keep insisting, is land for peace in the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms. Syria has precise territorial demands and no religious ideological claims, which makes Iran, and to a lesser extent Hizbollah, a strange bedfellow for the staunchly secular Ba’ath regime. And if Israel could get Syria out of the way by giving up the occupied Golan Heights, then they could break the direct line between Hizbollah and Iran. Furthermore, they could use the occasion to broker a peace with Lebanon by releasing prisoners and giving back the Shebaa farms. (A subsequent water-sharing deal could be attempted for the aquifer-rich area if Israel really thinks it’s worth the effort; in any case, Israel seems to be moving more and more toward desalination schemes, so such a water-sharing agreement might not even be necessary.)

And if they were to include Hizbollah in the negotiations process, then they could not only be sure to get the Lebanese government to visa the peace plan, but they would have explicit and public agreement from Hizbollah, which would go a long way toward removing any excuse that the Party of God might have for continuing attacks against Israel.

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Responses

  1. We will see. Much of the current debate regarding the territorial situation seems to revolve around “urgency” vs. “patience”. As the dust is still settling in Southern Lebanon, I feel that the most-sustainable short-term plan would place immediate emphasis on the battle for the social and economic reconstruction of Southern Lebanon. Long term wise, I am not sure if any immediate peace brokerage deals, especially “land for peace” designs, would really halt or reverse the embitterment (Perhaps we should remember the Rabin admnistration). If anything, any form of analysis that considers Hizbullah an altruistic organization who are only fighting for the liberation of Palestinians, will fall into the trap of neglecting *or just downright forgetting* the extraordinarily complicated presence of power politics (via Syria and Iran) within the region.

    -km


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