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Towards a definitive peace in the Middle East

Samir Khalil Samir, SJ

A. WITHOUT LEGALITY THERE IS NO WAY OUT Finally, after thirty-three years, war is overuntil the next war! Israel did not achieve its main objective to annihilate Hezbollah and with it resistance nor did it sow discord amongst the component elements of Lebanese society; by way of compensation it brought about long-lasting destruction in the Lebanon. Hezbollah says that it is the winner and many Muslims in the world see it as a hero. In reality, it is destined to disappear as a militia and will not recover its dead. Everyone has lost. May God be praised! Otherwise, someone would delude themselves into believing that war can produce peace or be an interesting option. The great loser is the Lebanese people who have paid the highest tribute in terms of civil victims and infrastructures. The irony of fate is that it is precisely this people, more than any other, that is near to the West, aspires to peace, and works daily for an inter-community project: 'the Lebanon is more than a land, it is a message', said John Paul II, and after him so many men of every religious confession. The military supremacy of Israel has not brought it peace; rather it has increased hatred and thus, potentially, war. The Katusha rockets will not give back to Hezbollah its hundreds of dead nor will they give back the land to the Palestinians. It is certainly the case that the Muslim world, in its most gregarious form, sings the praises of Hezbollah. But this will not bring more democracy, more modernity, more prosperity or peace, goals to which every Muslim aspires. 'Going to the Roots of the Problem' War has never produced lasting fruits. Extremism is not eliminated through war, and even less is it eliminated through purported 'terrorism'. All politicians acknowledge that one has 'to go to the roots of the problem'which go back to more than fifty years ago. We have, of necessity, to address this. Hezbollah, which has 'usurped' the Lebanese army's function of defending the homeland, is not the root of the problem: it did not even exist when Israel invaded the Lebanon in 1982 to attack the Palestinians that were in the country. Not even the attack on Israel at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972, a grave act of terrorism, is the root of the problem. Nor are the attacks of Israel against the land of the Palestinians and neighbouring countries the root of the problem. Neither Hezbollah nor Fatah, nor Hamas, not the attacks carried out by Israel, nor the Israeli settlements, are the root of the problem. The problem is not of a religious character: between Jews and Muslims, or Jews and Christians and Muslims, even though it is evident that the religious dimension has never been absent from Middle Eastern politics. It is not therefore a war between Jews (supported by Christians) and Muslims. And it is not even an ethnic war between Jews and Arabs, and who could really claim that the Jews or the Arabs are ethnic realities? The root of the problem, therefore, is neither religious nor ethnic; it is purely political and all the rest is attached to politics (including culture, sociology and economics). The problem goes back to the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 following the persecution of the Jews seen indeed as a 'race! which was decided by the superpowers without taking into account the populations that were present in this (holy) land: this was the real cause of all the wars that followed. To solve a grave injustice committed in Europe against a third of the Jewish population in the world, the superpowers (including Europe) decided on and committed a new injustice against the Palestinian population, which was innocent when it came to the martyrdom of the Jews. This partition was, whatever the case, a historic fact, born of an international decision. The existence of two States, an Israeli State and a Palestinian State, within the boundaries established by the United Nations, is an objective and legitimate fact, and cannot be called into question by contesting de jure or de facto the existence of these two States within their international borders. Any outrage against international legality, however debatable this legality may be brings with it an evil that is greater than the one that is contested. Thus any solution to the conflict that does not respect international legality to the full, that is to say the resolutions of the UN, cannot lead to peace. B. A DECALOGUE FOR A DEFINITIVE PEACE To achieve peace only the path of diplomacy has some likelihood of success. This path is based upon two complementary rules: on the one hand, justice and respect for international legality; on the other, the need to make certain concessions in order to take reality into account. This assumes, on the one hand, knowledge, and a sense of, international law, and, on the other, flexibility, discernment and readiness to forgo a part of one's rights in favour of the rights of another. I would add another point: given the fact that for more than half a century in the Middle East war and hatred have dominated, a perfect solution does not exist; it is necessary to look for, and to accept, the least imperfect of the solutions. It is necessary to reach a lasting solution indeed a definitive solution to the crisis of the Middle East in order to construct, all of us together, slowly, peace. And perhaps if we are allowed to dream a little to create a 'Middle Eastern Union' (MEU), in the same way as a European Union (EU) exists, which was itself born of the belief in the uselessness of constant wars in Europe, above all between France and Germany. Only then will the Middle East region enjoy a definitive peace for the good of all. To achieve this goal, I will try to point out a path which is at the same time both just and realistic, and which I will express in the following essential points: a small 'decalogue of peace in the Middle East': 1. The creation of a Palestinian State based on international borders (those prior to the war of 1967); small changes should be made as long as they are agreed upon both by Israel and by Palestine. 2. The establishment of an international commission to solve, in a reasonable way, the 'right to return' of the Palestinians as recognised by the UN in its Resolution 1941 of the General Assembly. This principle should be recognised but its application must take into account the change in the situation: between a return of a limited number of Palestinians and a compensation for the others guaranteed by the international community. 3. The Israeli settlements could remain for a limited period (for example ten years) under Israeli sovereignty. Subsequently, the settlers will have to decide whether to return to Israel or remain under Palestinian sovereignty, just as 160,000 Palestinians once decided to live under Israeli sovereignty. 4. Official recognition and the exchange of ambassadors: each State in the Middle East (including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, etc.) should officially recognise as definitive the borders of the other States, and agree to accredit the ambassadors of these States. 5. The creation of a 'robust' international force where peace has not yet been fully achieved in order, as well, to control the arms trade; in particular between Israel and Palestine, Israel and the Lebanon, the Lebanon and Syria, Syria and Iraq, Iran and Iraq, and Turkey and Iraq. This force should be placed on both sides of international borders. 6. Help for States that are militarily weak through the creation of national armies that are sufficiently strong to assure security on their own and thus the dismantling of all groups militias or settlers. At the same time, efforts to reduce military investments in the Middle East and to control those States that are militarily strong. 7. The freeing of all prisoners of other countries held within a State through exchange agreements; in particular between Israel and Palestine, Israel and the Lebanon, and the Lebanon and Syria. 8. The establishment of an international commission to solve in a fair way the problem of water in the region, an essential condition for development and a frequent cause of conflicts. 9. Jerusalem is the neuralgic point but also the most delicate point. An international commission, involving both Israel and Palestine, should thus be created for the city of Jerusalem, which both States legitimately wish to have as their capital. This is a matter of guaranteeing security, freedom of movement, and respect for international borders within the city, but also of sacredness, the safeguarding of, and accessibility to, the Holy Places, which are a universal heritage and must be protected by international agreements. 10. The launching of a project of a 'Middle Eastern Union' (MEU) made up of all the States of the region. C. A UTOPIA TO BE ACHIEVED: THE 'MIDDLE EASTERN UNION' We have proposed a peace plan for the Middle East (essentially between Israel and her neighbours) based upon the application of international decisions and taking into account human and political realities. For such a project to begin to be realised a mental revolution is necessary, a conversion of hearts. For more than half a century the political leaders of Israel and the Arab countries have only proposed violence to their peoples as the sole solution to their problems, convincing them that law and reason were on their side. Long interior work and a great deal of courage will be needed in order to change the approach. War does not require courage, but peace does! Mother Teresa said to President George Bush Sr. and President Saddam Hussein in January 1991: 'I beseech you, choose peace!' The war between Israel and the Lebanon that has taken place under our eyes, with its inhuman after effects of bestiality and suffering, has allowed millions of people, of all tendencies, to understand that violence, whatever its legitimation, will not bring a lasting solution and that the Middle East will not obtain peace through war. This discovery is perhaps the only good to have come out of this tragedy, whose high price has been paid above all else by the Lebanese people, who had just begun the reconstruction of their country. If from this tragedy a serious project of definitive peace could be born, then these sufferings will not have been in vain! The safest way by which to assure a definitive peace is to aim to create if we can be allowed to dream a little a 'Middle Eastern Union' (MEU) which could include all the States of the region (including, obviously, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran etc.), if they all decide to live in peace together, just as a 'European Union' exists, which was created out of a belief in the uselessness of constant wars in Europe, above all between France and Germany with the figures of Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), Alcide de Gasperi (1881-1954), Robert Schuman (1886-1963) and Jean Monnet (1888-1979). It appears premature but this can be achieved if people really want a definitive peace. Establishing its juridical, economic, political, military and cultural foundations; defining the conditions for being members; organising meetings between the States of the region; proposing a calendar etc., and signing bilateral or multilateral peace agreements for long periods of time (from ten to twenty years), are difficult tasks that require a great deal of time and patience. In relation to many points one could take advantage of the experience of the European Union. Utopia, that country that does not exist 'anywhere', could be achieved tomorrow if Palestinians and Israelis, Lebanese and Syrians, Jews and Muslims, i.e. all of us, wanted to believe in the impossible. Realism means having a utopian vision precisely in order to achieve a utopia. This country that does not exist is the country of the future foreseen by the prophet Isaiah (11:6-8): 'The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and the little child shall lead themthe suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den'. The 'Promised Land' will not fall from heaven; it will be built with hard work and the hearts of those who seek to build peace. The 'heavenly Jerusalem' of the Apocalypse (21:2) must be created on earth. Israel and her international borders must be recognised by everyone and the State of Palestine should be created within her international borders, and there is no need for a Berlin mega-wall to separate them. The Lebanon is a sovereign country, the friend of Syria but clearly distinct from her. All the armed parties and groups should be disarmed because the task of defending a homeland belongs to an army which receives its directives solely from the government. But no State has the right to go beyond its boundaries, even to 'defend itself', and no 'preventive war' is ethically admissible. To sum up, a 'state of law' throughout this region, guaranteed by the international community, is the necessary condition to achieving a lasting peace. In my view this is the Promised Land that will flow with milk and honey , that is to say justice and peace! This is a gift of God because the courage of peace is truly a gift of God. Beirut-Reidenburg, 21 August 2006

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