Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group

July 26, 2006 OpEd Piece


In recent days, many Palestinians, Lebanese, and Israelis have been killed and many more have suffered great losses. The Israeli government, Hezbollah and Hamas committed the actions that produced those tragic effects. Those perpetrators receive support from different outside states, notably the United States, Iran and Syria.

The perpetrators' actions may have been motivated by fear, desperation, distrust and anger; but the policies were also shaped by overconfidence in what could be accomplished by violence.

There is much that the U.S. government can and should do to overcome this terrible crisis. Doing so effectively, however, requires a change in approach by the George W. Bush administration.

The administration bears some responsibility for the present crisis. Whatever its good intentions, the administration has too readily acted unilaterally, with too great reliance on military capabilities, legitimizing the reliance on war-fighting for everyone else. In making war in Iraq as it did, it aroused great resistance in the Middle East, among U.S. allies and in many other parts of the world.

Moreover, the continuing war in Iraq makes the United States seem more vulnerable to challenges. At the same time, threatening regime change in other countries increases the likelihood that those regimes coordinate forces and try to counter U.S. threats and policies.

The lack ofenergetic U.S. leadership to help achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed greatly to the present crisis. After the death of Yassir Arafat in November 2004 and the subsequent election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, little was done to strengthen the moderate new leader.

When the Israeli government began to plan the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and military forces from Gaza, the Bush administration did not work hard enough for a negotiated withdrawal, which would have yielded achievements the PA leadership might claim.

After Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections elections urged by the Bush administration the administration faced a quandary. It tried to compel Hamas to recognize Israel, abandon terror and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Pressure, not possible gains, was a blunt instrument. Outside support to the Palestinians was cut off, as were various external relations. The Palestinians' conditions deteriorated and they felt more desperate, which was not conducive to peacemaking.

The current violence in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon is not likely to result in what any of the perpetrators want to achieve. The U.S. government can and should help stop the violence and turn the adversaries onto the path toward peace. They require a more multilateral and comprehensive approach.

The Bush administration should appoint a special Middle East envoy, a person of stature with a broad mandate to assist the adversaries in extricating themselves from the present crisis. Possible envoys are former president Bill Clinton, former senator George Mitchell, or former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Most immediately,the United States should work with the United Nations to establish a cease-fire on the Israeli-Lebanon border, and send U.N. peacekeepers to the border, with a larger mandate than the ineffective UNIFIL force established in 1978.

The U.S. government also should help the U.N. secretary general orchestrate a mutual release of various hostages and prisoners held in the region, and join the international community in rebuilding what is being destroyed in Lebanon.

Most urgently, humanitarian relief should be provided for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, distributed through local non-governmental organizations and through the PA president's office. Fortunately, the European Union has worked out a procedure for some funds to be so distributed, starting Aug. 1.

Over the longer term, Washington should help renew discussions leading to negotiations between President Abbas and Israeli officials. Finally, it should help organize an ongoing regional conference on various issues relating to peace and security, such as Palestinian refugees and nuclear weapons.

The present crisis can become a great opportunity. It should include opening channels of communication, even if only indirectly, with U.S. opponents. The new approach should rely less on military threat and force and more on benefits that cooperation could yield.

It is not too late. A new approach will greatly contribute to the U.S. counterterrorism struggle. Courage, boldness and good judgment are needed to win widespread support, here and abroad.

This letter was published in the Syracuse Post Standard on July 26, 2006. It was signed by Lou Kriesberg, Mary McDonald and Ahmed El-Hindi for the entire group.