Apr 13 2004

Overlooked Opening for Mideast Peace

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

Jerusalem — The Bush administration is passing up an important possibility for winning the war on terrorism: a military intervention and international supervision of elections in Palestine.

Few anti-terrorism experts would disagree that solving the Israel-Palestine conflict can offer an important impetus for winning the global war on terrorism. Failure to resolve this conflict has been repeatedly stated as a source of irritation in the Arab, Islamic and most of the developing world.

Every conceivable peace plan has faltered over one issue: the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Whether it is the assassination of Palestinian leaders, bulldozing of Palestinian homes and digging up of Palestinian lands, or armed attacks against Israeli soldiers and suicide attacks against civilians, the underlying impediment has been the unending violence. Stopping the violence is the fastest road to peace.

But neither Palestinians nor Israelis have been willing or able to stop the violence. The most obvious solution is clear: a neutral armed outside force. And surprisingly enough, neither Palestinians nor Israelis are strongly opposed to such a possibility.

Palestinian officials and the public alike have been on the record urging the international community to intervene militarily. Palestinian leaders have repeatedly called on the international community to activate the “road map” clause calling for armed monitors. Palestinians have endorsed the plan drawn up by the United States, the United Nations, Europe and Russia. Although it has expressed 14 reservations about the plan, Israel is also on the record accepting the road map.

The importance of outside military intervention has never been clearer. With every Israeli incursion and every Palestinian bombing, innocent civilians on either side pay a heavy price. The Israeli army insists on being tough, to create a sense of deterrence. Palestinians refuse to appear weak and insist on taking revenge. The result is a cycle of violence.

Both sides seem bent on making sure they get in the last licks. This cycle of violence has gotten worse as the Israeli prime minister has indicated a willingness to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. Israel worries that such a withdrawal would be viewed as a sign of weakness. Therefore Israelis have escalated their violence against Palestinians, an escalation that climaxed recently with the assassination of the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

A foreign military intervention is seen by many as the only way to end this fatal embrace. The military force could be a U.N. multinational one, a NATO force or even a U.S. one. While Israel has repeatedly refused to consider such an idea, many in that country believe their government would have a hard time refusing to allow a U.S.-led force to act as a buffer between Palestinians and Israelis.

Such a force should be temporary and be deployed as part of a cease-fire agreement between both sides. It should be part of a plan that encourages both sides to sit down and hold serious political negotiations without the constant interference of violence by this party or that, this radical group or that right-wing ideologue.

The presence of such an international peacekeeping force could also provide a chance for the Palestinian people to carry out overdue elections: local, parliamentary and presidential. The last time Palestinians chose their mayors and city council members was in 1982. Legislative and presidential elections were held in 1995.

The siege on Palestinian territories and the security situation have made it impossible to hold elections. With the convening of elections, the Palestinian body politic would get badly needed young blood to replace the existing leadership, which has largely failed its people. Elections would also provide various political groups, including the Islamists, with a civilized, tangible and productive way to reflect their political ideas.

The Bush administration has made important political progress by declaring a vision for peace in the Middle East based on an independent and viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure state of Israel, by 2005. For this vision to be implemented, an immediate end to the cycle of violence is crucial. Right-wing expansionist politics, hatred, anger and desire for revenge have fueled the fatal present cycle of violence. The intervention of an international military force to put an end to the violence and prepare for local and national elections would go a long way toward fulfilling this plan for a two-state solution. And it would undoubtedly stabilize the Middle East, removing a problem that has been a major source of terrorism and anger in the region and the

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